Hello, my name is Sarah and I’m a television binger (that’s with a hard ‘g’). It’s nothing new, all my life I’ve binged on media whether it be books or video games, but with the steady increase of available television shows, often seasons at a time, television binge watching is an ever-growing epidemic. Some of you may be unfamiliar with television binge watching, others may be sufferers yourselves, but together, we can all help in raising awareness.
On Friday, Netflix premiered its new original series, House of Cards, and in what is beginning to become the trend they dropped all 13 episodes at once. That means as I’m typing this it isn’t out of the question for somebody to have by now watched the entire season. Consider what this means for a moment. Those Monday morning “water cooler chats” will have to be segregated by those who’ve only seen a handful of episodes and those who’ve binged on the entire season. The risk of spoilers has significantly increased. And a story that would normally take weeks, possibly months to enjoy has been compressed into a weekend marathon session.
We are at a point of television evolution.
There was a recent New York Times article that touched on this concept of binge watching and it’s what got me thinking about this change in the way we’re watching television. The TV I regularly watch can be lumped into three categories: binge shows, weekly shows, and hoarded shows. The first is comprised of shows I’ve discovered through streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon. They’re shows that have either finished airing, like Stargate Universe, or shows I’m several seasons behind on and want to catch up, like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire. This leads to hours, maybe even days of watching one show and one show only until I’ve either finished or am current with the series.
My weekly shows are programs I’ve been watching from the beginning and make sure never to miss an episode for fear of being spoiled. Shows like The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Once Upon a Time, and Game of Thrones. Though, once those seasons are completed and added to one of the many available streaming services, I’ll watch ‘em all over again in a binge session.
Then there are the shows I’m hoarding. Shows I never catch up with while they’re airing and since they’re as of yet unfinished, I’ll hoard them until I can watch the whole series in a marathon. As of now I’m only hoarding Breaking Bad, though I’ve always kept Lost on the back burner in case I run out of things to watch. But few shows will I ever hoard because my compulsion to know what’s happening and be 100% up to date is too strong.
Then there’s a show like Downton Abbey. I binged on the the first season via Netflix and was quickly ravenous for more. Months later I when season two aired on PBS it quickly became my new weekly. By then I was so hooked I researched when the show would air in Britain, something like six months before it airs in the U.S., and began watching it through ITV’s website when it aired across the pond. See? I can’t stop myself! If I know there are new episodes out there and I’m not seeing them, I seek them out.
This is a serious compulsion I and thousands others share, and companies like Netflix and Amazon are starting to wise up and learn how to profit from it. Just yesterday it was announced Amazon had secured exclusive streaming rights to Downton Abbey and are now offering the final episodes of season three, which have yet to air on PBS in the U.S., to Prime members who purchase a season pass. PBS handles their advertising differentlt from other networks so I’m not sure what ill effects they’ll suffer, but imagine if other shows had their current seasons preempted by the complete season becoming available online before it’s finished airing? Those networks would freak! And we’re talking about a legal service, this doesn’t have anything to do with all the thousands of hours of TV illegally downloaded every day.
Netflix is clearly banking on the popularity and demand for shows like House of Cards and the new season of Arrested Development to bring in new subscribers. In fact, they’re offering the first episode of House of Cards to anyone with access to the Netflix site, subscriber or not. And since the TV shows on Netflix are already offered whole seasons at a time they’re decision to release new series the same way isn’t much of a risk. They’ll leave it up to us and our own willpower to decide how quickly we consume them. And in my case, it’s going to be during an unhealthy binge session where I’ll do nothing but sit on my ass, glued to the screen. Super Bowl? Forget about it, I’ve got five more episodes of House of Cards left and I’m not leaving the warm glow of my TV until I’m finished.
What’s next for the TV programs of tomorrow? Our consumption of media is changing all the time and with the influx of more and more shows available on demand the traditional weekly airing of our favorite shows might become a thing of the past. Will there be a day where episodes are no longer necessary and we’ll settle in for eight, ten hours programs we can pause when and where we like? Personally, that’s too drastic a change for me. The episodic format is nice, like chapters in a book or checkpoints in a game, and making it so far so quickly is like a badge of honor. Or depressing sadness when you realize you haven’t left your house in days, your friends have stopped calling, and you smell worse than the inside of tauntaun. Achievement unlocked: The impression of your butt has become a permanent fixture of your couch.
So, what are your habits when it comes to TV consumption? Are you a weekly watcher? Do you hoard? Binge? Let me know in the comments. We TV bingers need all the support we can get, and, since come Monday I’ll likely be finished with House of Cards, I’m looking for recommendations of what I should binge watch next.