Last summer, within the month of June, my girlfriend and I watch the entire catalog (at the time) of Game of Thrones. We decided to try it out because we heard a ton about it and we had access to the series, so we decided to give it a shot. 40 hours later (spread over about 3-4 weeks) we reached a terrible point, we reached the “caught up” point. Up until that point, cliffhangers were no problem because we could just queue up the next episode and indulge in our obsession. (I consider myself lucky that I didn’t have to wait a year between Season 3 and 4.) But at the “caught up” point we had to wait for HBO to release new episodes. After June, we had to wait 10 months before a new episode were released (yes I am aware the show is based on a book, this article isn’t about that) but 10 years ago, that was just the way TV worked. The audience was at the mercy of the content providers rolling out and rerunning the TV series. It is with the popularization of Netflix and other like services that coined the idea of “Binge Watching” a television series. These services allow users to consume an entire television series in a very short amount of time, an amount of time that would have been unheard of 10 years ago.
There are some pretty steep pros and cons of this behavior and here are 3 situations where they occur.
Situation: Cliffhangers can be significantly smaller or significantly steeper, depending on the series.
Cliffhangers exist to keep the viewer interested, to give the viewer a level of action and excitement that will make them crave another episode. In the world of Netflix, those cliffhangers could be leveled off or dug even deeper. For the first example, let’s look at the Dexter series. Dexter has concluded and the entire series is available on Netflix. I assure you, there are some cliffhangers that would drive you nuts if you couldn’t watch the next episode immediately. In the case of Dexter, there is no need to wait to see another episode, Netflix will queue it up for you automatically and the cliffhanger is no more. For the other example, we will use Breaking Bad. I watched Breaking Bad through the first part of Season 5, which is the beginning of the end of the series. Up until episode 8 in Season 5, I was used to queuing up the next episode immediately, but I after that point I was caught up, now I had to break my habit of binge watching and wait like a savage.
Situation: Entertainment Value
A question you have to ask yourself is, are you getting the appropriate amount of entertainment out of your selected TV Series? When you consume an entire series in a matter of days/weeks, are you getting the full value of that entertainment? Think about it like this, traditional TV viewing allows you to create a weekly ritual of sitting in front of the TV at the exact right time, tune into the same exact channel, once the show is over you will think about it and pump yourself up to repeat this ritual every week for 10-16-24 weeks of the year. Instead with binge watching, there is no ritual, there is no anticipation for what happens next, and there may be diminished thought process as well. But the capability to watch a TV series like an extended movie could be worth missing out on the aforementioned ritual. There really is no right or wrong to this situation, it is for you to decide if you are getting the correct amount of entertainment value out of a TV series you choose to indulge in.
Something that is harder to dive into is longevity, because we do not yet have meaningful, complete TV series that has been available exclusively through the streaming medium. House of Cards will hopefully be the first TV series to conclude that will allow us to look back and see if we appreciate it as much as The Wire, The Sopranos, or Breaking Bad. So the question is open ended. When you can consume an entire series in a matter of a month, will you remember that series for as long as you would if you had to wait multiple years to consume it? What do you think?