The Problem with Netflix’s Episode Dumping, Binge Watching Philosophy Continues
I’ll say this plainly. I love the fact that Netflix is now becoming a significant force in the creation of original television shows. The quality of the programs they produce, for the most part, is top notch.
House of Cards approaches HBO-level quality (if just barely missing it), I loved the Arrested Development reboot, even if it did have a few timeline and cast availability issues, and Orange is the New Black may very well be the best new comedy of the year, across any channel. Hemlock Grove…well, even that show got enough fans to warrant a season two.
I’m still struggling with an internal debate however as to whether or not Netflix’s binge-watching release schedule is the best thing for the “network,” its shows and it’s audience. I understand the appeal to consumers. Most of us have consumed a lot of our favorite shows all in one go, whether it’s blasting through 6 episodes of Sherlock in two days or marathoning every episodes of The Sopranos over the course of a month. There’s something fantastic about being able to watch a show entirely on your own schedule, and this often results in days where you’ll wolf down 4-8 episodes of a show you like.
But there’s also something to be said for the waiting, and the discussion that follows the waiting. Now, when a popular show is released on TV like say, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones or Dexter, you wait to find out what happens next, discuss the past episode as you do so, and guess about what might happen in the future. It’s why I have so much fun doing weekly reviews for these shows, and a lot of people enjoy either reading or writing them, or simply discussing things with their friends.
This is being lost with this new system. You simply can’t have these kind of conversations anymore. Here’s a discussion about a show (Lost), that I might have had years ago.
Me: “Who the hell is this crazy guy living in the Hatch? Is he an Other? Is the island some sort of giant lab experiment? What the hell?”
Friend: “And what’s that damn button about? And the numbers?”
Me: “Don’t forget about the smoke monster!”
Friend: “God I can’t wait until next Wednesday.”
And here’s a conversation now, about House of Cards back when it premiered.
Me: “How far are you in House of Cards?”
Friend: “Uhh four episodes in. You?”
Friend: “Shit, don’t say anything.”
Me: “Has the part happened where…”
Friend: “I said DON’T SAY ANYTHING.”
Do you see the difference here? It’s much, much harder to have discussions about the show with everyone on different episodes depending how deep their urge to binge watch has been. For instance, when a certain character died on House of Cards, that would have been a big headline and significant moment for fans to talk about among themselves. But because everyone was watching on their own schedule, that conversation never really happened. I’d love to talk about the season finale of Orange is the New Black I watched yesterday, but I have no idea who has made it that far yet.
The other problem is for the shows themselves. There’s no week to week build-up to generate excitement. The show is just out, all of it at once, and the media races to watch all of it as fast as they can so they can review it. Sometimes they’ll put out awkward reviews of one episode, or a few, or halfway through, but it’s not week to week and people actually have to avoid reading most of the early reviews for fear of spoilers.
This also makes the news cycle of the show much, much shorter. We talk about shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead for months, with 10-16 episodes airing week to week. But for Netflix shows? I think people were really only talking seriously about House of Cards for two weeks, and I bet Orange is the New Black won’t have any headlines by August. Arrested Development may have gotten a bit more press, but only because of its significance.
I’m not sure any of this matters to Netflix, as they seem to be just fine greenlighting shows and pretty much renewing all of them. So long as enough people watch, I suppose it doesn’t matter if people talk about them for one week or twelve. It’s just an odd way to consume a brand new TV show that I’m not sure if I like. I miss being able to discuss shows with people, but if I finish a season in three days, and my friend takes a month, it’s not nearly as much fun. Imagine if Game of Thrones dropped all at once and half the internet was talking about the Red Wedding while the others were still far removed from it. There’s a lack of collective “oh shit!” jaw dropping moments when everyone isn’t watching at the same time.
Obviously the common idea is that Netflix is the future of TV while the traditional networks are the past. I don’t begrudge them that title, but I just don’t know if this distribution method is ideal for creating larger, lasting fanbases around their shows.
What do you think? Am I being old fashioned, or do you miss traditional TV discussion for these shows like I do?
Completely agree Paul.
I use to feel much the same as you, it didn’t make sense to me to abandon the controlled drip of weekly episodes for many of the reasons you stated. Then I became accustomed to streaming, and realized those perceived “issues” were really just sentimentality. Now broadcast tv is unbearable to me, I would rather watch nothing at all than watch one second of broadcast. TV & Cable is where they put content that they never want me to see. More and more of my friends are refusing to waste their money on the universally overpriced and utterly terrible disservice of cable. Now the idea of dribbling out an episode a week just seems like a disrespectful and silly waste of time.
The only reason networks and production companies needed to keep you riveted for the next episode is to sell you to their advertisers. Not to entertain you, not to provide a service, only to objectify you as a commodity.
Totally agree with you Paul, it’s a completely different experience. You build a relationship with a show over a period of months versus binge-watching in a single weekend then on to the next thing. I can’t believe the next generation may grow up never knowing the agony and excitement of having to wait out a cliffhanger all summer.