It’s Sunday morning. The clouds are out, but not especially. You’re exhausted from a week of work and a Saturday night of one too many. There’s nothing on the docket for today and you can already feel the slight dread of the impending Monday morning alarm clock and the obligations that come with it. The motivation to make the most of your Sunday is lost, but you know you want to be entertained in the laziest way possible. You remember you have a bag of Tostitos in the pantry and salsa in the fridge. At this point you know exactly what you’re doing and the good folks at Netflix, HBO, Hulu or your DVR are going to help you. It’s time to binge watch an epic TV show.
I’ve been in the above scenario countless times. It’s admittedly very unhealthy, but there’s a sentiment about most of the behavior we knowingly engage in that’s not good for us: If it feels good, have at it. And can you blame us? Have you seen the things they’re putting on TV these days? There are some seriously talented individuals who want to bring their twisted and addicting stories to television.
TV is in a golden age where drama formerly reserved for cinema is now brilliantly written and acted out in more detailed and multidimensional ways than ever before. Movies only give us a couple of hours to figure out their characters, but today’s TV shows give us multiple seasons worth of episodes to get to know, analyze, and most notably resonate with very complex antiheros (a.k.a. “real people”) while being entertained by an incredibly interesting story. TV dramas have evolved from surface only ‘who-done-its’ to very deep character pieces that people now obsess over. It’s a little like the rising popularity of craft beers. We’re willing to invest more in higher quality passionately crafted beer than continue to fall in line with the over-marketed, watered down Bud Light. Sure Bud Light still crushes any one particular craft beer in sales, but small breweries are achieving growth and success even at higher prices by creating loyalty and appreciation for quality. Integrity of a brand alone can breed success. We’re seeing this same approach in the music, food, and of course, television industry.
HBO probably deserves the most credit for initiating the importance of brand equity as the forefront of deciding what programming is selected for TV. HBO doesn’t care about ratings. They decided years ago to create uniquely compelling entertainment that created loyal fans who grew addicted to the Soprano family, single women in New York City, good police in Baltimore’s drug war, and a rags to riches actor who moves to LA with his best buddies. Elevating their brand gave HBO a better hand at the table and demanded cable providers pay their higher fees or risk negative backlash from their customers.
Soon after FX, AMC and other cable channels seeking to build their brand began offering creators more artistic integrity and took on greater risk than the traditional big commercial broadcast networks would ever be able to promise. This risk became an advantage. And now you’re even seeing those broadcast networks realize that quality is as or more important than widespread appeal or easier cookie cutter show concepts. Commitment to this quality is now attracting creative types and even some well known film actors to choose the TV landscape for their work, much to the benefit of people on their couches.
Now that we’ve acknowledged TV’s spike in quality thus spike in interest, let’s discuss our favorite way to watch these shows: binging on them.
Why do we so easily engage in mass consumption of our favorite shows? This is an easy one. Binge watching TV is inherently American. We do everything in excess. We overeat, binge drink, outspend our means, and seemingly never stop working. Human satiety today would put our ancestors into cardiac arrest within a week. It seems like we approach everything with “what’s better than one? Two of course.” This isn’t some soap box referendum. I practice every bit of this lifestyle. It’s too normal now. It feels too good. Binge watching TV plays to this behavior perfectly. Nobody recognizes this better than Netflix, who resurrected themselves by acquiring popular whole series previously on TV for on-demand streaming at our leisure. And by “at our leisure” I mean all at once. They overtly called us out for our binge habits when releasing entire seasons of their very own high budget original shows at one time. I finished House of Cards in two days and they knew I would. There are now various other on-demand services and DVR’s holding our favorite shows at large serving sizes. And we love our large serving sizes.
Even networks with reality shows or syndicated re-runs of older shows are getting hip to our binging habits. TLC can practically rename their network Say Yes to the Dress. And when was the last time USA wasn’t showing Law & Order?
A good TV show is seductive. It’s great to watch, makes you feel something, and irresistible. That’s why when the music is cued and the credits start rolling at the end of each episode it’s the show’s way of leaving a room and giving you bedroom eyes. You have to follow it. Binge watching allows us to do this immediately. Yes this is hyperbole, but a week by week viewing can be agonizing. They give you scenes for next week which are as enjoyable as blue balls. You need to immediately see what’s next. The “Play next episode?” flashes across the screen. Well gee Netflix, you’re not very coy about it are you? You want to go to dinner first or just skip the pleasantries? Netflix knows there’s no more flirtation needed. You’re weak at the knees and the show has you roped in. Thankfully it’s Sunday, you’ve got nowhere to be, Jimmy John’s can deliver, and Walter White just broke bad. You have 5 more seasons at your finger tips. Play next episode.