At this point, if you haven’t heard of Netflix then you’re just outside of the pop culture bubble or living under a rock. If you haven’t heard of Hulu or Amazon Instant Video or HBO Go or Showtime Anytime, then you might just be oblivious. If you don’t know what a DVR is (or *gasp* what a TiVo is) then…well you’ve never owned one. My point is, the new way of watching TV and movies is here and it’s not going away anytime soon. It’s evolving, and with that evolution brings all kinds of possibilities that allow you to immerse yourself easily in the world of entertainment in virtually any place at practically any time. It’s at our fingertips, sometimes literally depending on your viewing tool of choice, and is always available, Wi-Fi password pending. It’s the future and the future looks pretty sweet, especially when it’s in HD – 4K if you’re really fancy.
But what happens now when almost every single TV show or movie is available in an instant, when commercials are completely optional and waiting another week for a new episode is laughed upon? What happens when we want to stay in a fictional world that fascinates us to no end and that we never want to leave?
Binge watching, that’s what happens. And having this option up your sleeve is more important than you know.
Now let’s focus on the task at hand: how does one manage to watch all of the seasons of The Walking Dead before the new season premieres in a few months? More importantly, with its penultimate season starting to roll out, how are you supposed to catch up on Game of Thrones before someone inadvertently ruins what happens in The Rains of Castermere episode and then some? And lastly, how are you supposed to do all of this without breaking the bank, searching for and buying all of these seasons in physical form or even in the digital space? Luckily, with the advent of this totally awesome, totally non-addicting new way of watching, you can do all of this in no time and for a literal fraction of the cost! In all honesty though, bingeing is definitely addicting and is definitely not something that takes no time. It takes all the time, every single second of the time, and while the streaming world is a whole lot cheaper than owning everything, it still has variable price points that you need to abide by, but for most of us out in TV land, who really cares?
Being able to watch my favorite forms of media whenever and however I so choose is a great step forward in the attempt at making everything in the entertainment industry easily accessible. The Internet, Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo, whatever social sharing, video posting, news spewing website you choose, they’re all easy ways to watch and consume everything you want in the same amount of time it takes for you to flip through the hundreds of channels in your satellite subscription only to find out there’s “nothing on” (we all do it). The advent of these video streaming sites like Netflix or Amazon Instant Video allows you to have the same kind of access to what you want to watch, but with the added allure of having interfaces that encourage us to watch more. Thirty seconds to decide whether you want to see the continued adventures of your favorite character can either be a lifetime to wait or too short a time to even make up your mind, but either way, the fact stands that the content is all there, ready and waiting for you.
Bingeing even becomes sort of like a game – a life achievement if you will. How fast can I get to the end of this season? Of the series even? How many episodes can I cram in a day so that my time with these stories and characters can be viewed in one, seamless experience? I love that last part by the way: one, seamless experience. Where else can you watch two months worth of television in one afternoon? Some people argue that the wait in between episodes or seasons is necessary to build the hype and imaginations of the viewers, to make them crave the end product more than if they had the simple ability to click to the next episode, and I completely understand that. The slow rollout of teasers for an upcoming season, the quick (if not too revealing) glimpses of the next action packed episode, the press releases that give out just enough info to keep us in suspense that make us want more: I get that. But by the time the week ends and I’m ready to sit and watch the newest installment of Arrow or Flash or by the time the many, many, (way too many) months go by in between seasons, I forget what’s happened, and more importantly, I forget everything that I’m supposed to be feeling and processing. It usually takes a few scenes to piece the story back together and most of the time the “previously on” section only references certain events that the show wants us to remember for the specific episode at hand, any refresher on the relationship drama and small character moments falling to the wayside. Throw in the fact that when the commercials rear their ugly heads, they break my focus, pulling me away from my experience to a point where I’m sitting there, not fully invested in what I’m seeing. With binge watching I am invested. I have no choice but to be invested. There is nothing but the show on screen and my knowledge of the previous events fresh in my mind and – depending on the streaming site of your choice – extremely limited interruption that, if anything, saves me the time of pausing the actual video to go to the bathroom. It’s great, and for me, has opened up my viewing experience tenfold.
But why does that matter? Why is bingeing so important to the way we now consume our entertainment? Why is the idea of one, unbroken, fictional experience, the lack of commercial interruption, or the idea that we don’t have to wait to watch another episode even a topic of discussion in the first place? It’s simple: because it has never in the history of this industry been tried before. We are at the cusp of a new age. We decide what we want and how we want it.
Take Netflix for example. They release their entire slate of original programming at once. No slow rollout of episodes, no crazy hype in between viewings, nothing but pure, unadulterated content. And that is the exact reason why this new wave of innovation is important: it’s the way they meant for us to watch it. Why else would they take this approach? There is no filler. There is no wait. There’s nothing but you and the stories they’re trying to tell. And why do they do this? Why not stick to the normal way of releasing episodes and movies? Because once we got a taste of having everything at our fingertips, these companies took notice, and so did we. They saw that we loved it. They saw that we wanted it, and dare I say they saw that we even needed it.
As with everything, moderation is key, so the question remains: is bingeing a good thing or a bad thing? Is spending a day getting lost in one of your favorite fictional worlds for hours on end as a means of escape and relaxation really all that terrible? Or is it a travesty to power through every episode of a series all the while shirking your responsibilities as a human being? In all honesty, it doesn’t even matter. You choose how good or bad this new wave of entertainment is. You choose. That’s what this evolution has brought to us: choice, and that’s the entire point of it all. You want to watch a couple quick episodes before heading out to start your day? Do it. You want to get a few friends together to binge on a favorite cult classic that got cancelled way too soon *cough*Firefly/Hannibal *cough*? Make the phone calls now. Or how about you just want to have a lazy Sunday to start a new show that someone’s been recommending for the past year? Get your PJs on and get your favorite junk food because it’s all up to you. Gone are the days of sticking to a TV schedule or movie release date. Gone are the times that you have to sit through yet another new car commercial or a trailer about a girl and a guy and a thing and another thing that has nothing to do with the movie you’re about to see. And because of all of this, because it’s a choice and because it gives the old way of watching TV and movies the runaround, bingeing is more important to the future of the entertainment industry than we can possibly imagine. It’s presenting us as viewers a new and unique experience that we never even thought possible before.
So the next time you want to watch one more episode, just one more to see if the Bluth’s can rise above all their petty (and hilarious) family problems, realize that you’re partaking in something truly unique and new and inventive. Bingeing sounds like such a terrible word, but in this new age of streaming video and HD quality images, what’s the big deal with getting your TV or movie fix all at once? It’s your choice after all, so choose wisely.