Watching in Bulk, Watching in Isolation
Chris Smith laments the binge-watching trend (the formatting on the link sucks, but I haven’t found a properly formatted version of the article, so sorry):
Now, thanks to the advent of high-speed internet and the connected services they’ve enabled, technology has surpassed the content. You no longer have to buy (usually) expensive boxsets to buck the TV trend – it’s all piped straight to your television for a monthly low-cost fee.
Before we scrap the old model forever, though, it would be wise to consider some of the bi-products of that repeat business model; little things like anticipation, excitement, longevity, shared experience and pop culture immortality.
Ask yourself this: would the global obsession with the Breaking Bad finale have happened or been such a cultural event had we watched it like House of Cards?
“Those final eight episodes of Breaking Bad… now that was an extraordinary experience. From the countdown to it coming back from the mid-season break to the anticipation of a new episode on TV each week… wow!” says Thompson.
“That was just a different kind of buzz that [binge watching] doesn’t give you.”
One of the things I really like about television is the social aspect of it. Here at Ordinary Times we have watched Fringe together and are now watching Babylon 5 (though I am dreadfully behind). It used to be, this was how television was watched. So you’d see an episode and discuss it around the proverbial water cooler. That is indeed, as Chris says, something lost in binge-watching. Particularly when it comes to Netflix’s fare, which is released all at once. It’s increasingly true of regular television as well as it increasingly becomes DVRed, watched on Hulu or some other streaming service, or legally or illegally downloaded, in bulk.
The end result is that it that while we enjoy it more on its own, we enjoy it less socially.
That’s a tradeoff I am increasingly willing to make, though. It’s not so much that I absolutely-positively can’t wait for the next episode to come out. Well, sometimes it’s that but not always. More, it’s that as the responsibilities in my life increase, and television becomes more complex, it’s become really hard for me to remember what’s going on. Especially if I am trying to balance many shows at once. Especially when despite my best efforts I fall behind on a show and the intervals are too long.
This fall season I decided that for the first time I would watch 90% of my shows in half-season bulks. Shows are increasingly dividing seasons into two parts with fall conclusions and cliffhangers. So this fall I mostly got caught up on old TV shows and only watched a couple of shows as they came out. Based as much as anything on how easy they would be to follow. It’s been a rousing success. While I have regretted having to avoid online commentary, I simply ended up getting more out of the shows that I’ve been watching. And I’ve enjoyed them more as none of my watching has been geared towards keeping up.