Did binge viewing boom doom ‘Last Resort,’ ‘Park’?

Auds' appetite for marathon screenings may have hurt live turnout

Here’s a counterintuitive thought: Perhaps “Last Resort” and “666 Park Avenue” stalled at ABC because viewers were intrigued enough not to rush to watch them.

Consider the possibility that part of what hurt these series, which the Alphabet opted not to order additional episodes Friday, is the evolving new TV ecosystem in which they’re distributed.

It’s entirely possible that both “Resort” and “666” simply didn’t click with a large enough aud, whether it was because of creative shortcomings or tough timeslots, or both. But note that the storylines for both of these rookie dramas had serialized elements conducive to binge-viewing, in which consumers watch multiple episodes of a show in one sitting long after their primetime window, either banked on their DVR or on a streaming service.

And therein lies a potential problem: Could catch-up viewing be commonplace enough now that there are too many viewers who hold off on watching serialized shows like “Resort” at launch in favor of bingeing on them later? By delaying their viewing beyond the window when their consumption matters most to a show’s survival, they’re unintentionally hastening its demise. (ABC so far seems to be hedging its bet on “Resort” as it has not released the actors’ options.)

At a time when networks are pressing to move to live-plus-7-day measurement for advertising guarantees, and Netflix is hailed on every showbiz earnings call for padding the bottom line, we’re overlooking the possibility that the DVR and SVOD platforms are actually “serialized killers.”

By providing alternative options to primetime during primetime, both platforms were already being blamed for siphoning audience for live viewing, particularly in the 10 p.m. hour where “Park” was skedded Sundays.

Consider the contretemps that enveloped Nickelodeon earlier this year, when a ratings shortfall was pinned squarely on Netflix, which has a deep library of kiddie content from that network and its rivals. While some analysts believed the bigger problem was Nick wasn’t investing in enough original programming, others suggested the network had in effect licensed enough content to Netflix to deliver a self-inflicted wound.

But “Resort” and “Park” is a different kind of damage, what might be called pre-emptive cannibalization.

It’s impossible to know how many viewers might be thinking like this because there hasn’t been any publicly available data on how just how pervasive binge-viewing is. If anyone knows, it’s Netflix, which loves to crow about this habit on its platform. In September, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos told an investors conference that 50,000 of its subscribers watched 13 hours of the entire previous season of “Breaking Bad” the day before the new season bowed on AMC.

If that many engaged in what Sarandos called “extreme behavior,” how many are doing more moderate binges?

The irony is Netflix likes to present itself as a friend to the TV industry, citing its ability to license the kind of serialized content that would otherwise go for a pittance in traditional syndication. Netflix’s exclusive rights to carry the reruns of “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” have also been credited for driving viewership boosts to the latest seasons of both shows this year.

But it’s the very success of these modes of viewing that could be conditioning more viewers who are interested in a program to skip it at launch because they know the binge awaits them.

Netflix isn’t the only one to blame here. Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime may not have comparable sub bases yet but their TV libraries run deep. The SVOD category is only going to get more competitive in the coming years, providing more opportunities to binge.

The only difference between SVOD and DVR is that the latter technology is like a self-administered form of binge-viewing, and one that can be done much closer to the premiere date than on Netflix. And there may be a third culprit: VOD, whether on pay-TV platforms or a network’s website, although they make fewer episodes available.

There are still other new serialized series trying to survive the brutal primetime window. Even those that have earned full-season orders have a tough road ahead. NBC’s “Revolution” started so strong but has been fading. ABC’s “Nashville” is hanging in there, but CBS’ stalwart procedural “CSI” is beating it handily in the timeslot.

Maybe in addition to promoting individual shows, the broadcasters need to launch a separate campaign with a simple tagline: “Don’t wait to watch.”

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