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Battle of the Binge: New TV Habits Emerge

  |  September 23, 2013   |  Comments

According to new numbers from Nielsen, more than 75 percent of subscribers have watched three or more episodes of a single show, in a single day. We have come to call this 'binge viewing', and it is both somewhat controversial, massively disruptive and totally interesting for advertisers.

Have you watched Orange is the New Black?

Or, more to the point, have you watched Orange is the New Black all in one sitting?

Orange is the New Black is the new original series running on NetFlix, from the same woman who created Weeds. The fact that it takes place inside a women's prison is only part of the reason you should watch it. The show is funny, witty, touching and extremely well-acted. The show is a part of NetFlix's new strategy to grow from being the place where you stream bad sci-fi movies from the 80s to a network to rival HBO and Showtime.

The interesting thing about Orange is the New Black (as well as the other original shows that NetFlix is producing) is the way the content is released: all at once. NetFlix has completely snapped a model that television has relied upon from its inception, serialized programming. Every show, from I Love Lucy all the way through Breaking Bad and Mad Men is done this way, a different episode each week, presented at the same time. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel (for those of you who remember).

But NetFlix is borne of a different mold. They come from the Internet, not from broadcast towers and airtime. They come from a world where tons of content is simply posted up, and people are able to get as much as they want, whenever they want. NetFlix's world came into contact with the traditional, serialized world when the service began posting full seasons of TV shows. According to new numbers from Nielsen, more than 75 percent of subscribers have watched three or more episodes of a single show, in a single day.

We have come to call this 'binge viewing', and it is both somewhat controversial, massively disruptive and totally interesting for advertisers.

The New Broadcast Model: Now with No Broadcasting

The traditional model of broadcast television (and radio for that matter) was perfectly built for advertisers. Content was developed in a big push during the offseason, then parceled out week after week either telling a complete story, or just providing short vignettes in the lives of the characters. Interest grew over time, as a small number of people watched a show, liked it and then told their friends about it. Audiences always grew slowly over time as more people became fans of the show.

This is great for advertisers because, since a show tended to be targeted at a particular demographic, brands could be sure that they could reach that same group each week. It made sense to buy a whole season of Cheers or The Cosby Show.

With binge viewing, that model is completely changed. Networks are increasingly being asked to either buy a complete season of a show or nothing at all. There is a move away from creating pilots: single episodes designed to test the waters and see if an audience likes something.

Today, the networks are being asked to buy an entire season. That is what NetFlix does and they drop the whole thing onto their site at once. There is no building of an audience. There are either the people who have seen a show or haven't. But, of course, those who have seen it become the strong influencers of those who haven't. Really. I am telling you to watch Orange is the New Black.

Advertising fits in Where?

So NetFlix hasn't got any ads right now, at least not in the shows. But you can see how other networks may begin to consider taking advantage of binge viewing, and therein lies the opportunity. Consider the idea of companion shows. The Walking Dead is going to do this: create a new series and storyline that is a part of the same world as The Walking Dead, but with distinct characters.

Networks will have to start experimenting with binge viewing content and these sort of ancillary shows may be just the right way. Then we see that viewers will consume several hours of content, which will create new chances to place ads. Well, hopefully brands will do something more interesting than just "place ads". But I think you get the point. AMC probably won't go to a subscription model like NetFlix and will still have to rely on ads. If someone is online and watching three-plus hours in a day, there is a great opportunity to carve out some amount of time to communicate brand ideas.

This is the sort of development - both in technology and in viewing habits - that makes people in digital advertising so excited. We are in a point where things are changing not only in terms of what exists, but really, what we can do with it.

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Gary Stein

Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.

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