Picture this. It’s a Friday night. You’ve just finished work. You’re friends are texting and calling urging you to leave your cave and explore the city lights. You glance at your uncomfortable black heels and consider the repercussions of a night out. Suddenly, the thought of dancing among a cesspool of sweaty people in a confined space no longer entices you. A light is surrounding your laptop as it rests peacefully on the couch cushion. It’s soft, comfy, safe and calling to you and before you know it, you’re now slumped on the couch with your index finger on the mouse pad, scrolling through the mecca of choice the internet has to offer.
You strike gold on Netflix. You sink your teeth into the first episode. As it concludes, you feel good however you’re cravings start to cloud you’re judgement. You ingest another and following a short intermission, you re-fuel and attempt to induce rationality however, the allure of the plot twists reels you back in. You dive for more. Finally, you reach the last episode of the current season. It’s 8:00 AM on a Monday, and you start work in an hour. You’re exhausted and lethargic. Your head is pounding from a sensory overload of drama and multiple story-lines and you feel bloated and heavy.
These feelings are not uncommon, and have been labelled as the global phenomenon known as ‘binge-watching’, whereby an individual watches episodes of a series in a consecutive sequence, without any concern of their surroundings.
Prior to the rise of the internet, traditional methods of consuming content were methodical and balanced. The notion was coined as ‘marathoning’. Marathoning differs from binge-watching, as episodes of a series are streamed on a daily to weekly basis. It can be best described as a degustation. You have 7 small dishes, with each course keeping you satisfied. The meals are spaced out, allowing your palette to taste each flavor and savour every mouthful. By dessert, you’re content, feeling full and accomplished with a greater appreciation for the quality of the food, rather than the quantity.
However, the menu has now changed to suit a new generation of taste buds.
Creators once generated content based on the gradual pace of release, adding cliff-hangers towards the conclusion of an episode and multiple-story-lines, to increase the longevity of a series. Network television shows like Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Wire and Friends maintained a strong fan base over an extended period of time, as audiences were induced to establish rapports with particular characters. As society’s craving for information increased, a sub-culture of sensory overload manifested, and although audiences will establish some sort of connection with certain characters, the race to finish line overtakes emotional attachment.
This sub-culture is also influencing the development of television and web series, as creators are now focusing their attention on feeding starving audiences with rapid and digestible content, leaving them satisfied until the inevitable withdrawals kick in. Episodes are becoming increasingly more self-contained and with the popularity of the internet, Netflix, Presto and Stan on the influx, long-form dramas are being phased out. This has unsurprisingly affected network television ratings, with the proportion of Australian’s who don’t watch commercial television increasing by 14.9%. General media manager at Roy Morgan, Tim Martin pinned the decline on commercial advertising.
“Commercial television is now unable to reach around a fifth of all 14-34 year olds and the trends looks set to continue. TV networks will need to become more innovative with content and scheduling. They are now stuffing airwaves with commercials to boost revenue- leading audiences to seek alternative sources without extraneous advertising”.
Proportion of Commercial TV Total Viewing Minutes by Age Group (2016)
Television networks are struggling to stay afloat due to the rising demand of content from extraneous sources who offer bolder content. Through a strong online presence and following, some of the most successful television series found their origins as web series, the internet has established a destination for unconventional content to spawn. Shows like Broad City, Portlandia, Ugly American’s, Adventure Time, Workaholics and Rick and Morty, are all prime examples of web series that have broken through the strict criteria of executive networks. Each web series encompasses daring concepts and controversial themes, shedding light on important issues, creating a forum for discussion among audiences and alternative perspectives on current trends.
With the uprising online popularity, television sets are becoming irrelevant and dated. Would you wait to watch the latest episode of Orange is the New Black or House of Cards, when you have the option to watch the entire season at once? Why sit through a myriad of ads, when you can download ad free?
Although bingeing can be viewed as a dangerous and unhealthy choice, it doe their is always a demand for new and different content. Marathoning however, involves wading through murky waters of the unknown, waiting a few weeks to watch three episodes of a series to decide whether you are interested or not. Each concept has its drawbacks, however if consumed in moderation, the viewer will reap healthy conversational rewards.
One thing is for sure, whilst we watch past generations eat the scraps of television with their knives and forks, future generations are moving the cutlery aside and gorging upon the carcass of the digital age.
I’m full for now…. but get back to me in an hour.