In Defense Of Bingeing

Post by: Rick Ellis 25 February, 2021

I spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the concept of bingeing television with people. In some circles, the practice of streamers dropping an entire season of television at once is considered to be very close to a cultural crime. If you want to get a lot of traffic to a post, all that is required is to include a headline along the lines of "Hey, Bingeing Sucks."

The main argument against bingeing comes from TV industry folks, TV critics and hardcore television fans. They moan about how bingeing destroys the communal experience of the conversation that surrounds the traditional weekly episode release method. In a lot of ways, this complaint reminds me of the ones that sprung up in the music industry during the evolution from album releases to being able to buy individual tracks from an album. 

There certainly was something communal about the experience of hearing an entire album back-to-back in the way that the artist intended. And there are some albums that deserve that level of attention and contemplation. But it's easy to forget the old album/single purchasing method was a terrible experience most of the time for consumers. It was expensive and you often found yourself being forced to buy an entire album to get the two or three tracks you really wanted. And while music fans could rightfully argue "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" deserved to be experienced in its entirety, I'm not sure that the album "Chicago XIV" deserved the same level of appreciation.

And that is my response to people who use the success of The Mandalorian or Wandavision as a rationale why all scripted television should be released on a "one-episode-per-week" basis. Those shows are the exception, not the rule. Releasing episodes once a week doesn't guarantee people who spend more time talking about the show. Otherwise, my
social media feeds would be filled with conversations about the second season of Snowpiercer

The pop culture zeitgeist only has the attention bandwidth to deal with so much bandwidth at one time. And in an industry where there are maybe a dozen potential buzzworthy shows being released each month, dropping an entire season of most of them at once gives more of them a chance to shine-even if it's for a shorter amount of time.

Releasing an entire season at once also plays to the reality of streaming television in 2021. We live in a world with a lot of media distractions. We're discovering things at different times and on a variety of unexpected platforms. Our viewing habits are defined by our friends and social media feeds as anything else. For the most part, we don't live in a pop culture world of entertainment. It's a pod culture world. More and more often, we discover a show because someone we know or follow on social media talk about. I am sure nearly all of us have suddenly had a discussion of an older show dominate our cultural pod because one person discovers it and encourages everyone else to give it a try. 

Some of the griping about binge-releasing television comes from people who have built parts of their careers around the concept of a weekly release schedule. Journalists who write weekly recaps, publications who crank out tons of breathless coverage of every episode - none of that work fits into a world where entire seasons of TV shows are dropped every week, carpet-bombing viewers with an endless selection of new things to watch. 

But binge-releasing television plays to that time-shifted pod culture most of us live in now. Yes, a traditional weekly release works for some high-profile programs with built-in fanbases. But entirely too many industry analysts and reporters confuse "how I watch TV" with the way it should work for most people.

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A version of this piece originally appeared in the Too Much TV newsletter. You can subscribe for free here.

Last modified on Thursday, 25 February 2021 23:39