Long before the days of Netflix, our viewing habits were very different to what they are today. All of our favourite TV shows had regular prime time viewings slots, who doesn’t remember watching The Simpsons around 6:30pm on Channel 4 every evening? When there was a new drama on the BBC, we had to digest it one episode at a time, week by week. We had time to discuss it with our friends, catch re-runs if we missed it and read about it in the papers. The closest we had to binge watching was purchasing the videotapes or DVD’s, months after they aired and watching them at our leisure.
Fast forward a few years and we have every kind of show and film imaginable at our fingertips, ready to be watched at the click of a button. The likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime allows the viewers to watch huge chunks of series in one sitting. This bred the ‘binge watching’ culture we know today. A viewing habit that has completely changed the way we watch TV, even down to how it’s created and released. Binge watching is mostly considered a boasting status among some communities, we’re applauded for sitting and watching 6 hours of TV in one swift blur, however we very rarely question what we are watching and most importantly, how we are watching it.
When watching a new TV series airing on a national TV channel, we are quick to judge whether we like it or not. We’d probably watch 1 or 2 episodes, a week apart, before making our mind up whether to continue investing our time into something we want to be 100% behind. Yet when watching something on Netflix, we tend to invest much more time into a TV show before deciding whether to watch the rest of the series. Having all of the content readily available in one spoonful tends to mean we watch more than we would have otherwise. We don’t have that downtime in-between episodes to fully reflect on what we like and dislike about the show and take on the opinions of others in office chit-chat. I’m the first to admit I’m guilty of this. Due to the way we are fed the entertainment, we find ourselves continuing with a series that has become mediocre or stale, just because we know the end is in sight. We invest so much of our time to a Netflix show, we often prevail through to the end because we feel we need to, why else would you invest 13 hours of your time to not finish the last 2? It seems trivial when we actually think about it, but we’re probably all guilty of it!
After taking much more of a devoted interest in this topic, listening to many podcasts and reading various articles, I’ve learnt that it’s not just the viewers mindset that has changed towards viewing habits, but the content creators themselves have too. It’s often an intentional choice how a show is fed to the audience, do they want to drip feed a show, week by week? or drop all the content as one on a streaming platform? both have it’s benefits. Huge shows tend to drip feed us shows, week by week, this gives audiences and the media time to whip up hype. We’ve all had those office discussions about the latest Game Of Thrones death, or how Rick and the gang will get out whatever trouble they are in currently in The Walking Dead. It builds the excitement, tension and allows people time to theorise about what will happen next, the secret weapon for networks everywhere. Yet being given everything to be consumed at once, we naively sit through filler episodes and often lack those deeper connection with the characters or the story lines. I can honestly say right now that my most enjoyed TV series have come from watching them in the ‘traditional’ formula rather than binge watching them on Netflix. We could even argue that show makers leave all of the good stuff to the later episodes just to keep us on tender hooks, but that is discussion for another time!
What I’ve learnt from my many hours of ‘research‘ is that my viewing habits have adapted to how invested I want to become in a TV show. If I go for a big budget weekly show, I become obsessive, reading articles, discussing theories with anyone who will listen and consuming every relevant podcast I can get my hands on. I am completely engaged with the show. However I find that binge watching Netflix is a completely passive experience for me. Although I thoroughly enjoy the shows I am watching, with fleeting fondness I move onto the next, often having them running in the background whilst I’m focusing my main attention elsewhere. This post is a prime example, I have the Vampire Diaries running in the background whilst I’m writing this…
Although the binge watching model has lead to discovering some of my favourite shows, all because I stuck with it past the first few episodes and let it get into it’s stride, something I wouldn’t do with traditional TV. I’m not sure which side of the fence I settle on in terms of the binge watching model, in some sense it’s provided the gateway to some charming original shows through the likes of Netflix however it certainly has impacted the way we devour entertainment. It certainly makes me question how this will continue to change the way television shows are made, commissioned and consumed in the future, will we become a divide of the mindless TV watchers and the completely obsessed?
Have you ever thought about the way you watch television? Or thought about the different ways you have engaged with the shows you watch?
I hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion in this new type of post, please let me know what you think in the comments! I’m planning on writing more in-depth posts about film and television in the future, so please pop back if you’ve enjoyed it.
You can find out the 4 Netflix Original shows you need to be watching right now or my top 45 Netflix shows you need to watch.