In the age of instant access, the concept of binge watching TV is still relatively new. But with Netflix’s go at episodic programming and full seasons of shows on demand at Hulu and Amazon, the way audiences like and even expect to watch media is shifting.
More and more we see viewers, and some network executives, praising “the binge.” Online distributors have even jumped on the binge-wagon when it comes to their own original programming, which includes Emmy winners Transparent (Amazon) and House of Cards (Netflix).
Meanwhile, this summer NBC became the first broadcast network to attempt a version of the online binge model with its dark Charles Manson drama, Aquarius. It’s a big step for networks that rely on the week-to-week model, not just in terms of narrative, but for business.
Binge watching does, in its own way, offer a more immersive and personal viewing experience. You can watch as much or as little as you want, when you want, over whatever period of time you want to do so, with the added bonus of no commercials (in most cases). It’s media-on-demand, and a level of control most TV watchers have dreamed about for years.
But despite its silent, creeping takeover, there has been some push-back against the consumption model as of late. Even Netflix, a pioneer in the arena, is stepping out of form with the introduction of Between, a Canadian co-production set to be released in weekly installments. So far there hasn’t been any negative response the distribution shift, with viewers still flocking week after week to catch a new episode.
It raises an interesting question though about whether binge-watching is a new format or a new fad. While it’s clear that watching this way has its merits, both Netflix’s foray into the weekly release as well as some negative opinions about the binge platform itself suggests that the format doesn’t necessarily reign supreme for all series or watchers.
Is it better to binge or not to binge? What kinds (and qualities) of series are better binged, as opposed to those rolled out over time? To answer that question, we’ve put together a list of things that can help make for a good (or bad) binge series.
The structural nature of storytelling for serials versus procedurals makes one the more obvious choice for binge-programming.
Procedural dramas are much like comedies. When a viewer leaves for a week or two, they won’t immediately pick up on the handful of seasonal (and slower) developing plots. However, they will feel comfortable jumping right in as most of the smaller details can be pieced together fairly quickly through throwaway dialogue.
Character development can also be a tad more shallow than in serials as more time is focused on immediate action versus building development. This can mean a viewer’s investment in what happens to the show’s central stars isn’t as strong.
The very opposite can be said of serials. With series like Lost or The Walking Dead, missing out on a week means you miss out on a lot.
You can have an answer to a key mystery or even a character’s motivations and backstory heavily revealed, explored and explained in one episode.
In the very next week the revelation can be put into play or the character can die — under circumstances and by actions that you can’t understand if you missed last week’s pivotal 42 minutes.