A cold, drizzly Thursday morning has dawned in the rural King Country. It’s 2003, school is a drag, I just can’t math to save my life, but if I can just get through it this the reward waits for me later that evening. Thursday means two things in the Pulman household, takeaways from the Golden Lantern (hands down, the best takeaway joint in Te Kuiti owned by a lovely family) and the latest events taking place on Coro’s cobbles.
Yes, as a young boy, I was into Coronation Street, far from the sports and politically obsessed product you see today. Coro was a thing for me, mostly because that’s what Mum had gotten me into over the years. She was so dedicated to that show, you can’t help but decide one day to flick over and see what all these relatively normal people are doing on the streets. So, I started to watch with her more regularly and it became a ritual. Mum and I would pile into my parents’ bedroom, while Dad switched on American Chopper out in the lounge. As the first ad break came, “how’s the Choppers going?” Mum would yell out to Dad, “yeah” he would respond in his typical dry tone.
As dull as it was, that’s what we did every Thursday night, without fail. I’d come home from school, scramble to get homework done and then take a quick shower before picking up the landline and ordering the takeaways after the first segment of TV3 news was done. There was no better way to wash down the fat-soaked fish batter other than a glorious Dilmah Tea, just in time for the beginning of Coro.
Fast forward 17-years and I’m in my two-bedroom flat watching the first episode of Netflix’s hot new drama, The Witcher. It’s a cool show, based off a book and videogame I never cared to discover, but this is kind of what platforms like Netflix are good at delivering on, as well as original IP’s that take off in popularity from seemingly nowhere.
It takes me little time to get through the eight hour-long episodes of Witcher S1, including binging the last three all in one night. I certainly didn’t have to wait another week to find out what happened to the bore main character that is Geralt, or find out if the seemingly crazy Yennefer was actually going to turn out to be the unsung hero.
But then something happened. When I was most enjoying this new show, I couldn’t help but quietly wish that I could, somehow, find a way to delay the enjoyment and go back to the feelings of this being something to look forward to each week. You know, like those good days in 2003.
But Netflix, coupled with all the trends on my social media feeds, is doing all it can to push me toward binging through and joining the discussion about this show I’ve really enjoyed.
The problem is that the enjoyment of modern-day television has such a short lifespan. Quickly thereafter, I’m onto the next big show, and then the next one.
Today’s state of binge-watching has all come about from one show, when upon its release, the company creating it had a vision of what many others previously scoffed at.
Wondery’s fantastic podcast series Business Wars takes a deep dive into the history of Netflix. Based on Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs by Gina Keating, the podcast explores how, on January 31st, 2013, a meeting was held between Netflix’s head of content Ted Sarandos and respected filmmaker David Fincher. It was just hours before the first season of House of Cards dropped online with every episode immediately available. It was a bold, first-time move that Netflix hoped would catapult their internet streaming video service to the top.
Releasing all 13 episodes at once not only worked for Netflix, but it changed the very nature of how consumers would watch their favourite TV shows, forever. Furthermore, Netflix’s political thriller was also available on DVD, but with other seasons like Orange is the New Black also offering the same “all in one” online drop, the service could push ahead because its content was going to keep on coming and subscriptions were rising.
Little is it known that HBO, arguably Netflix’s biggest competitor at the time, predicted that the idea of letting audiences watch the entire season of a top-tier show was a sure-fire way to kill growth and lose subscribers.
Less than a decade later, a growing majority of people are watching the latest seasons of their favorite shows, in their entirety, in one or two sittings. Binge watching isn’t just unique, it’s become the norm.
Then came Disney Plus. When it was announced that Disney’s marquee offering at launch, a Star Wars spinoff series called The Mandalorian, was to be a weekly episodic release, the reaction drew a nervous gasp.
And yet, The Mandalorian was still successful despite drawing the season out over eight weeks. Disney’s hot new show was 31.1% more in demand than the average title worldwide, catapulting it to the top and surpassing even the likes of Stranger Things, widely viewed as one of the top shows today.
The Mandalorian proves that if you’ve got a show that will likely draw in a large audience (like Star Wars did, and like House of Cards would’ve) then it can work. The risk of losing subscribers to a service is always there, no matter how you deliver the content.
I’d also state that the shows we are watching today feature some of the greatest production and writing value we’ve ever seen, but I just wonder if that is short-changed short on the time and attention front that these shows deserve by getting through them all so quickly.
Think about how easy it’s been to start, enjoy and finish these shows since that famous gamble taken by Netflix with House of Cards seven years ago, the very nature of how we consume media, including our TV, has changed remarkably thanks to the growth of technology that is constantly adapting. But has it necessarily changed the cost and time required to develop TV?
No, because the binge isn’t just proficient in terms of consumer watching patterns. There is also binge-spending and it’s already increased from $12b to $15b, by Netflix alone since 2018.
That’s some serious investment and subsequent production time, somehow it feels wrong to me that I can, so easily, be all done with that and onto the next thing so quickly.