The Case Against Netflix's Binge-Watching Model

Image: Netflix

I love binge-watching TV as much as the next obsessive. I wasted many weekends of my youth stretching the tape on bootleg Simpsons tapes. I devoured Battlestar Galactica on DVD over a few days in bed with the flu, and downloaded a few hundred episodes of Scrubs after a particularly bad break-up. As Aya Cash, star of the excellent televisions show You're The Worst tweeted, "I've been binge-watching shows since it was just called depression."

As an aside, if you haven't watched You're The Worst yet, you should make a note to binge it over the weekend.

So I don't think binge-watching television is a recent phenomenon, but I'm sure Netflix is to blame for bringing the concept to the mainstream. Netflix is the perfect vessel. It provides a massive back catalogue of television shows you've been meaning to watch for years, with an autoplay setting that begins a new episode before the credits finish rolling on the last.

But Netflix has brought something new to binge watching, and I don't like it. It has pioneered the 'binge release', dropping all episodes of its original productions on a single day. Now, when a new Netflix show premieres, I find myself in a race to avoid spoilers from those seemingly prepared to watch every ep on the day of release.

When Making a Murderer premiered, I ploughed through the whole depressing saga in one weekend. I didn't want to. I desperately wanted to take a breather and leave the awful spectacle for a while, but Twitter was awash with theories and spoilers, so I had to keep pace.

Now I'm a season and a half behind on Orange Is the New Black. I know something awful happens at the end of season four, because I couldn't avoid the shock of fans on Twitter and Facebook just a few hours after the last season dropped. Seeing so many not-so-vague tweets before I'd even had a chance to start the new season has made me less inclined to catch up. Besides, I've missed the window to discuss the show with friends, now everyone has moved on to Stranger Things.

This binge release is great for publicity, I'm sure, but it also makes a show's time in the spotlight, and in the zeitgeist, fleeting. Game Of Thrones has benefited from the anxious wait of its fans between episodes. Would the Red Wedding have had as much impact if it was just another episode of a whole-series release?

I'm sure Netflix has data to prove the binge drop gets viewers hooked on a series, but I think there's room for another model – a kind of hybrid binge.

Back before the original series of Dexter premiered, the first three episodes of the show leaked in high quality on the internet. Those first three episodes formed a perfect arc, introducing the eponymous lead, the Ice Truck Killer, and the mystery of their connection. I'm convinced those three episodes were leaked on purpose, to create hype for a show that was a bit of a difficult sell.

Three episodes is the perfect amount to release. It's just enough to get an audience hooked, but still manageable for a busy person to tackle in a weekend. After a three-episode premiere, Netflix could release new episodes on a weekly schedule, keeping viewers in suspense, and creating a season-long buzz. I know it sounds crazy, but I have a feeling it would work. I have the data from years of watching episodic television to back me up.

I doubt the company will take my advice and ditch the binge release, but I really hope they do. I just can't keep devoting whole weekends to one television show. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a full season of Bojack Horseman to watch.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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Comments

    Sounds less like an argument against binge watching and more of an argument for avoiding social media.

      This. I enjoy the odd binge here and there but my binge is still usually late to the party and I don't remember seeing a bad spoiler for anything since someone posted "Spoiler: Rita Dies" in a random post on 4chan years ago. I don't use Twitter though so maybe that plays a part.

      PS. I've almost always elected to wait for a whole season release so I could binge a show rather than watch it week by week and the Red Wedding was just as shocking.

        I'm so behind, by the time I get around to binge watching a series I've forgotten all the spoilers.

    I think you just have to deal with the fact that there will be spoilers. I don't think that knowing that something shocking will happen, or even knowing what actually happens detracts from a good show. If the show is only relying on that shock factor than imo its not going to be a great show. I know my partner absolutely hates spoilers and its happening way more frequently now that shows are available immediately.

      I reckon it depends a bit on the spoilers and the nature of the show. I hate having a mystery type show (Sherlock, Castle) spoiled since half the fun is trying to work out whodunnit before the detectives. Other types not quite as much.

    I don't use twitter. But from what I hear its spoiler central. Hell, people even write entire articles about someones tweet.

    Netflix put out some shows weekly. They are a data driven company. If it worked, they would do it to more than 1 or 2 shows.

    I totally disagree with the principles of this article.

    Releasing episodes at a scheduled time every week for a "season" is an artificial construct of the TV industry designed by marketing to build hype and suspense, in order to sell more advertising space. This model serves no purpose in an on-demand world of streaming media, and Netflix are absolutely right to dump it.

    The "hybrid" proposal is not materially different to the old TV model, and it just sounds lame. If it were adopted, when would each episode drop? Prime time in the US? 12 midnight, GMT? Delayed by time-zone and region so it arrives at 5pm on the same day for everyone? It's needlessly messy and complicated, and its sole justification is to avoid spoilers for those who don't have the spare time to binge watch but do have the time to waste on social media. That's a terrible reason.

    Netflix' success is built on a simple idea: for a flat monthly fee, it just gets out of the way of customers and gives them a wide variety of content that can be viewed whatever they want, whenever they want, on whatever platform they want. It's the perfect antithesis of traditional TV's locked-down drip-feeding model, and it should stay exactly as it is.

      Another benefit of the binge style Netflix model is you actually get a whole season filmed. So they should have a coherent story for the season. There's been a few series that got cut off partway thru a season. Sometimes just stopped cold midway thru a storyline, sometimes they get try to squeeze 6 or 7 episodes of storyline into the last 2 episodes in an attempt to at least give some closure.

    It's almost like you need to exert self control...

    I'm finding myself being more particular about what shows to binge for this very reason. I'll watch GoT ASAP and stay off the internet from when it airs to when I see it. Btu then other shows, like Bojack, I'm stretching out with a couple episodes here and there interspersed with other TV, because the need just isn't as great. Wow that sounds total dependancy-level doesn't it. Anyway; this season of Wentworth I've saved up all eps though, and will binge it over the coming weekend. Stranger Things I watched ASAP because it was something I was really into seeing, not because the I needed to do so before ppl wrote about it online. Having said all that, I'll be binging new Gilmore Girls because it's a) short and b) the last four words apparently will be all over the internet? Thanks for that, Amy Sherman-Palladino :/.

    For me it's not so much about spoilers but being able to talk about what happened on the show with my friends. I have to sit there and figure out who's watched what and when and not give spoilers away to them or tell them to hurry up and get to the good part. It does change the social dynamic a bit. For example, I watched chef's table and thought, oh my friends would love this, but we never talk about it because I have no idea what they've gotten up to and I forget that I told them to watch it. First world problems, but it is interesting how show viewing has evolved.

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