April 11, 2013

Your Turn: Binge Viewing

Have you ever watched an entire TV season in one sitting?

Demetrius: What is the longest amount of time you have sat watching one season of one show?

Teen: I think I watched twelve episodes in a sitting.

Teen: One day. Season one.

Demetrius: Ten episodes in one day. Have you guys ever done that?

Teen: Oh, yeah! When we have time.

Demetrius: The average teen watches about 22 hours of TV a week, but a new phenomena called binge viewing is changing the way people are watching their favorite shows.

Professor Bob Thompson: People used to watch six, seven, eight hours of TV a day. We never called it “binge viewing”. It was called it American life.

Demetrius: Robert Thompson, a professor of television at Syracuse University and professional binger has studied and taught the trends of TV pop culture for years.

So, what is binge viewing?

Professor Thompson: This new phenomenon of binge viewing tends to be associated with taking one show and watching lots and lots of episodes one right after the other.

Demetrius: What are some of the good things about binge viewing?

Professor Thompson: Watching them in order and all at once allows you to see the connection from episode to episode – the subtle, literary sophisticated stuff that gets referred to in episode eight from something that happened back in episode one. And if you are simply watching these things week to week, you don’t get that kind of organic unity.

Demetrius: This change in viewing habits has caused production companies to rethink how they create and release their product.

Netflix, the online video rental service, made news in February when it released its first original series, House of Cards exclusively on Netflix, all thirteen episodes at the same time.

Netflix representative: We told the creators of House of Cards, David Fincher and team, that they could do two seasons. We gave them a lot of money, 26 episodes, and go and create a great show.

Demetrius: And so you guys don’t have to worry about ratings?

Netflix representative: As opposed more of a traditional broadcast model where, you know, they have to sort of hope that, you know, the show gets the audience, you know, that people will tune in at a particular time on a particular date, at Netflix, we don’t have any of those kinds of pressures. We don’t cancel a show mid-season, for example. Which is something that could happen on broadcast.

Demetrius: Since the 1950s, the Nielsen ratings system has been the primary source of audience measurement around the world. But with mobile devices, online streaming and DVRs, it has been much harder to figure out just who is watching today’s popular shows.

Nielson tracks viewing by using a device connected to people’s TVs. But that might soon be changing. This fall, Nielsen plans on launching the Nielsen Twitter TV Rating system that will analyze what people are tweeting about to get better estimates on the number of people watching from digital devices.

Professor Thompson: Many of my college-age students will go home tonight to a dwelling where there is no TV set, and it’s not hooked up to anything – cable, satellite of anything. Their viewing is almost exclusively done on their digital devices.

Demetrius: And why is it important to know how many people are watching? Well, how much money advertisers pay for commercial time is primarily based on those Nielsen ratings. And for subscription cable shows, the more people who watch means the more people who pay for the channel.

And while binge viewing on one particular show is new, watching a lot of TV is not. Physicians say watching more than two hours of TV a day is linked to obesity and heart disease, and can even cause people to feel lonely or depressed.

But besides your health, Professor Thompson warns there is another downside to binging on a season of your favorite show.

Professor Thompson: You use it all up so quickly, and then you have to wait until the system replenishes itself. It’s kind of like chopping down all of the trees in a forest – oh, and now we have to wait for all of the trees to grow big again and it is a long wait sometimes.

Demetrius: Demetrius Pipkin, Channel One News.


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