Binge-watching and the Crisis of Traditional Television

The unexpected growth of OTT Video on Demand platforms has significantly diversified and boosted audiovisual consumption, improving experiences and exponentially increasing the supply of accessible content for consumers, while at the same time increasing the perception of the exhaustion of Television in certain sectors of the industry.

Will Television as we know it come to an end?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.

The consumption of traditional audiovisual content was historically subject to time and space references, since it implied either going to the movies at a certain time, or sitting in front of the television.

Many generations grew up under this premise, rushing home to watch their telenovela, suffering for missing their favorite show or being late to the movies.

Whether it was for news, movies, events or series, the almanac and the clock were the tyrants of programming.

The digitization of the audiovisual ecosystem and the advent of video on demand (VOD[1]) have significantly expanded the ways in which people consume audiovisual content, not only breaking the strict dependence on the clock and physical space, but also on the periodicity of viewing the same product.

For the first time in the history of television, a series that, as its name explains, is designed to be watched in episodes, can be enjoyed in one continuous run without having to wait until the following week to access subsequent episodes.

The concept of binge-watching

Binge-watching, which we have previously analyzed in other articles, is an English expression that refers to the compulsive and progressive consumption of audiovisual series, generally in digital format and on demand, popularly translated into Spanish as marathon series.

This mode of consumption, unthinkable in the days of linear broadcasting on television, has become widespread and popular with the emergence of Netflix and other OTT video-on-demand platforms.

The genesis of the term dates back to the 1990s, when it was first used to define the practice of watching multiple episodes of television series through the distribution of seasons in DVD collections.

By 2011, an article published in the Washington Post, entitled “TV shows online transforms a generation’s viewing habits”[2], made the concept visible and massified, referring to the phenomenon of systematic and progressive audiovisual content consumption, mainly by university students who consumed television programs in a single block even without a television set, since they did so on different devices.

The Challenges of New Audiovisual Consumption Practices

The term binge-watching[3]was consolidated in the collective imagination from 2012 onwards, thanks to the wide range of series offered by services such as Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video, which triggered the phenomenon of marathons as a common practice by users.

Binge-watching enchants and seduces audiences, which in perspective is positive, as it generates fandom (groups of fans who actively participate in the promotion and development of an audiovisual project) and builds viewer loyalty. However, this phenomenon is becoming a problem that cannot be ignored in the audiovisual industry: the production of a great series can take months, and for this reason it was projected to be broadcast weekly, as this periodicity allows to keep it alive for a long time in the minds of consumers and appeal to the desire to wait for the next part of the story.

When the audience consumes in just one week, the originally calculated equilibrium is broken. The series can die very quickly in the viewer’s mind or, in the opposite case, it can generate anxiety in audiences because of the long waiting time for the next season, something that many of us have experienced when we are fascinated with a series that we devour in one week and know that we must wait up to two years to see the next one.

Today’s big production companies, especially the OTTs themselves, have implemented some strategies to reduce this anxiety and keep the attention and expectation of fans without exhausting them.

Special end-of-year episodes are launched, transmedia content populates social networks and the casts of successful series travel the world causing a sensation at festivals and shows, even though the season ended 10 months ago. However, the risk of losing audiences, or worse, of disappointing them after a long wait, is still the ghost that threatens a risky industry.

A new type of Ceremony

Mareike Jenner, a researcher at Anglia Ruskin University in England, in her scholarly article Binge-watching: Video-on-demand, quality TV and mainstreaming fandom, suggests that binge-watching is a type of “ceremony” associated with “cult” and “quality” serialized content.[4]suggests that binge-watching a series is a type of viewing “ceremony” associated with fan practices, linked to “cult” and “quality” serialized content.

The researcher suggests that this behavior directly impacts the strategies by which VOD providers such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Prime Video or even YouTube, position themselves as an alternative to programmed, synchronized and “traditional” television.

Are new forms of consumption threatening traditional television?

Mareike’s vision, like that of other researchers in the field, analyzes binge-watching as an alternative phenomenon that coexists with traditional models of audiovisual consumption.

This, as we have analyzed extensively in the past, continues to show that traditional television coexists in contemporary times with new forms of audiovisual consumption.

In the case of Latin America, according to ECLAC[5] figures, for more than half of the region’s citizens, broadcast television continues to be the only means of audiovisual consumption and the main platform for access to the information, knowledge, show business and entertainment society.

Will Television as we know it come to an end?

The evidence shows that new ways of viewing and consuming content continue to be incorporated by producers, programmers and content aggregators, especially at a time when the most traditional content may end up in the catalog of an OTT, as is the case of many classic telenovelas and famous series.

Synchronous audiovisual consumption, that which is done every week or every day at the time agreed upon by the channel, continues to be important and combines harmoniously with digital consumption in this convulsive but exciting era of television.

All of the above prevents it from being possible to determine with certainty whether traditional television will die in the coming years or decades, however it is almost certainly possible to say that at least during this decade it will continue to exist as a highly consumed modality, which can be argued from multiple perspectives: First of all there is a strong rootedness in the consumption habits of many generations that grew up with television and still continue to consume it, on the other hand the slow growth of connectivity throughout Latin America and last and not least: Television avoids the cognitive burden of making decisions about the content that is consumed, given that someone made that decision previously.

In conclusion, new forms of audiovisual consumption such as Binge-Watching, have arrived with great force and rooted in cultural traditions, especially in the younger generations, exponentially expanding the supply and demand of audiovisual content and improving the reception experience.

All of the above has meant the loss of supremacy as a platform by Television, which must now share the market with many new screens, which could be defined as the expansion of audiovisual, which does not necessarily mean its end, at least in the short or medium term.

[1] Academic paper on Video on Demand VOD
[2] Press articleTheWashington Post
[3] Encyclopedic article onBingeWatching
[4] Academic Article by Mareike Jenner
[5] ECLACRegional Reporton Access to Radio and Television.