Have you seen any good television series lately? Did you hear the online buzz surrounding that movie, starring that famous actor? Could you stay up all night for a season marathon of your favorite show? The ways in which we consume, and enjoy, television and movies are changing, perhaps forever, due to the rising popularity of streaming services, and we no longer need to remain satisfied with one episode per week, or waiting for a movie to premier on cable; this is the era of binge watching, and we couldn’t tear ourselves away if we wanted to.
The changing landscape of television and movie viewership
It’s no secret that streaming services such as ShowTime, Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and GooglePlay have altered the ways in which we watch television programs and movies; in fact, the word ‘watch’ barely seems enough these days. Perhaps ‘consume’ is a better way of putting it. You see, while we were once happy to watch a single episode of our favorite show each week, waiting in anticipation to find out how beloved characters were fairing, the rise in popularity of streaming services has made it incredibly easy to devour whole seasons in a weekend, or over the course of several days. The thing is we now want more; we don’t want to wait to find out what happens in seven days time, we want conclusions, answers, and the end of the matter within moments of watching that first lot of opening credits.
Services such as Netflix have thoroughly spoiled their viewers, and we’re getting impatient, impassioned, and downright greedy in the ways we consume plotlines, characters, and happy, or not so happy, endings, as well as real life and not-so-reality TV. Attempting to satiate the masses is no mean feat, but Netflix has risen to the challenge admirably with original series such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to whet our appetites; whether they can carry on in such a manner is unknown, but there are plenty of brand new series on their way.
Of course, this culture of binge watching was always going to have its repercussions. We can’t, as a nation, absorb so much from the screen and not have it affect us. Take Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, which is fast becoming one of the most talked about shows of recent time; while coverage of a real trial, involving real people and real outcomes was always going to create discussion, the accessibility of every episode one after the other has whipped the audience into something of a frenzy. We can’t merely watch, and sympathize with, Steven Avery and his nephew on screen; we need to discuss justice versus injustice, guilty versus not guilty, and every aspect of the trial with anyone who has watched it too. Binge watching such a series has the power to turn the audience into armchair detectives, and we perhaps feel we have as much right to solve the case as judge and jury. After all, haven’t we just heard the same evidence?
The effect of binge watching Making a Murderer is best evidenced in the reactions of those taking to Twitter and Facebook following the season’s conclusion; some were satisfied, others weren’t, but the majority needed to make sure their feelings were known. While the name Steven Avery has become something of a legend among viewers, prosecutors such as Ken Kratz haven’t been so lucky; viewers taking to social media have been particularly keen to comment on Ken Kratz voice, and his statements in court turned into something of a joke. Indeed, comments talking about his voice come second only to shouts of derision from Avery’s supporters regarding the prosecuting team’s incompetence; would such emotion have been stirred had we been watching one episode per week? And there we have it; while watching one episode per week allows an audience time to digest everything they’ve seen and build conclusions for themselves, binge watching alongside similarly engaged individuals creates mass hysteria. The thing is, though, our culture has come to thrive on such activities, and we embrace these shows in their droves. We no longer want to wait to be entertained; we need it now.
To some binge watching television shows or movie franchises is a way to fill long weekends and days off, and to fall in love with something new. To others this binge is a necessity, enabling them to keep up with social media, and everything that is being watched and discussed around them; binge watching is a culture unto itself. One thing is certain; the rise in popularity of streaming services is currently fulfilling this thirst to be entertained, and we delight in being able to access new shows and movies so readily; this is entertainment our way, and we embrace it.