How binge-watching is changing networks' strategies

Following the popularity of 'binge-watching' as led by streaming services like Netflix, networks like TBS and NBC are trying out different ways of encouraging viewers to marathon their shows as well.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
'Angie Tribeca' star Rashida Jones arrives at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in 2015.

As the new TV ritual of “binge-watching” becomes an integral part of the medium, broadcast and cable networks are attempting to make their programs more suitable for watching several episodes in a row. 

Netflix shows in particular are famous for releasing a season's worth of episodes on the same day, as with shows such as “House of Cards” or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” And an increasing number of Americans are making streaming TV their primary way of watching TV rather than opting for a cable or satellite TV subscription.

So now some networks are jumping on board with the “binge-watching” idea. One recent experiment with this was TBS’s program “Angie Tribeca,” which stars Rashida Jones and is a parody of police procedurals. When the show debuted at the beginning of the year, TBS put all 10 episodes of the show on TV at the same time, airing them as part of a 25-hour event.

The network attempted to bring in viewers by adding appearances from actors like Ms. Jones, late-night hosts Conan O’Brien and Samantha Bee, and Jason Jones of “The Detour,” among others. Viewers could call in and stars including executive producer Steve Carell answered the phone. 

According to TBS, the move did bring in new viewers, with a third of the audience not having watched TBS before. 

Even one of the Big Four networks recently tried a strategy along these lines. When NBC debuted its show “Aquarius” this past summer, the network aired the pilot for the show, then made all the episodes of the show’s first season available online. The show has been renewed for a second season. 

Networks are trying more traditional ways to keep viewers going on to the next episode as well. TV Land’s show “Impastor,” which centers on a man in debt who masquerades as a preacher, is coming back for a second season this summer and TV Land creative and marketing executive Kim Rosenblum said the writers added suspenseful endings to all the episodes in an attempt to bring back viewers. 

"We added a storyline that was told more episodically as the mystery unravels," Ms. Rosenblum told Reuters.

But should all TV be like Netflix, with the ability to quickly move on to a new episode rather than waiting for a week?

Vulture writer Adam Sternbergh writes that “binge-watching” a show can make watching a TV program feel like one long task and may even make you feel more obligated to finish a season once you’ve started.

“For some reason, it’s very easy to quit a weekly show mid-season, or even after one less-than-enticing episode,” Mr. Sternbergh wrote of watching Netflix’s “Daredevil.” “But because there’s always one more ‘Daredevil’ to devour, I feel compelled to consume them all … watching a show’s episodes back-to-back-to-back, without the buffer of a week in between, often highlights repetitious crutches and lazy narrative shortcuts … With a traditional show like ‘The Good Wife,’ the creators can respond to public reaction and course-correct.”

And New York Times writer James Poniewozik makes the argument that streaming has not yet created a great drama.

"So far, streaming has best served a certain kind of plot-heavy, competent-but-not-revolutionary drama," Mr. Poniewozik wrote. "... Streaming needs to learn to use its supersized format better, not fight against it."

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