Television, Addiction and Netflix

8 03 2013

I am always super suspicious when professional pundits draw sweeping conclusions based on their own personal experiences. I’ve heard tons of podcasts in which the panelists assume that their children’s Internet habits are those of every teenager, or that the way they navigate their web pages is the way that everyone does.

I doubt it. I truly truly doubt it. (Even though, truth be told, my blog posting will often fall into that trap)

The latest “We Know Eveything” topic is “binge viewing.”

House of Cards

Those of you who don’t have an addictive bone in your body might have missed out on the discussion about Netflix’s distribution of “House of Cards” – the 13-part series, based on the English drama about scheming politicians. Aside from the merits of the series (and there are many) the biggest news about the series is that Netflix released all of the episodes at one time, so you could theoretically have watched the entire series in one day.

And that’s what “binge viewing” is all about. (Even the New York Times has leapt into the fray, so you know that it’s official).

But, if I may be so two-faced as to make my own broad generalization, the focus on binge viewing misses the larger point.

As I’ve said before, many of us are in the process of creating our own networks — we don’t know when our television shows air because we watch them when we want to, either through DVRs or online. We aren’t as aware of what network they aired on because of syndication at search menus.

The point with Netflix isn’t so much that they made it possible to watch all of “House of Cards” in one day but that made it possible for us to choose to watch it in one day if we want to. My wife and I watched two episodes a night for a week. Others watched it all in a weekend. Still others watched it one a night over several weeks. It’s our choice. NBC can kiss their “Thursday evening comedy block” goodbye, because large segments of their audience don’t watch it on Thursday. We used to define “appointment tv” as shows that were so good that we made it our business to be in front of the television to watch them. Now it means something different — the shows make it their business to be in front of us when we want to watch them. The entire fallacy of the present network/advertiser model is that it’s based on grabbing eyeballs at defined times (which is why movie distributors used to run their ads on THursday nights, before Friday openings).

Sure, plenty of people still watch television that way, but an increasing number are creating their own personal networks, without regard to original network programming decisions.

So, the value of a Netflix/Hulu/etc. model is that it puts more options in our hands. Distribution models, like those of Roku, YouTube, and Apple TV, are acknowledging the trend lines established by DVRs. We want ubiquitous libraries of materials available when we want to view them, not doled out by intermediaries like the networks.

The true revolution isn’t going to be figuring out how to produce series that we will watch whenever and wherever we want. It’s going to be in figuring out how to pay for them, and at what level. It will be in discovering how to create shows that may be watched out of order, or over enormous spans of time. It will be in shaping stories that cannot count on the viewer spending six months waiting for a new season — with all of the attendant anticipation and fan activity.

In short, it’s about how those of us who produce and distribute entertainment can adapt to those of who watch it. Regardless of how my daughter watches it.


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2 responses to “Television, Addiction and Netflix”

10 03 2013
Sex Mahoney (03:43:56) :

American television is near the end of it’s most recent golden age. The pond is about to start shrinking, but it will shrink slowly. This new distribution model will force shows to compete in an international market that no longer fetishizes American culture.

The future is Youtube/Hulu/Netflix/iTunes—or whatever video service comes next—as programming for video sites standardize production and establish tropes.

If I were a betting man, I would bet against Netflix if only because it uses a proprietary Microsoft player. It’s the Betamax of online video, which is more and more often moving to Google and Apple products (phones and tablets), and whose success in those areas Microsoft has been unable to match. It’s going to hamstring Netflix in the long run.

11 03 2013
Judith Allen (10:32:47) :

The recent trend in UK television with 4- or 5-part dramatic series seems to be to broadcast them on consecutive nights (recent examples – “The Fear” on Channel 4, “Mayday” on BBC 1) – whilst certain 2- and 3-part series are kept to the older model of weekly broadcasts.

I’m thinking that a lot of people must, like me, be recording for later viewing – or relying on the ability to iPlayer the episodes and catch up over the next month. And I wonder how much of that’s built into the decision to broadcast it all in such a way, and get all of the advertising pumped out in one short burst.

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