Remember when the only way you could watch an episode of a show you liked was to sit down in front of the TV at the exact time the show was airing, and watch it, commercials and all? Yeah, neither do I.
Less and less people are watching traditional TV (aka live TV on an actual television set), and instead, are switching over to watching online videos on computers, phones and other multimedia devices. The concept of being able to watch any show, anywhere, at any time, is extremely appealing to the masses. Hence the rise of Netflix.
But I’ll get back to that.
Throughout the years, watching TV has always been a shared experience; families would gather in front of their TV sets and watch their favorite shows together. The next day, last night’s episode would be discussed at the water cooler at work or in the hallways at school. While this communal aspect of watching television does still exist, it has also expanded to social media. Now, you can broadcast your reactions, feelings, and interpretations of a show to basically the entire world in real time. And to someone who has yet to see the latest episode, those reactions, feelings, and interpretations go by another name: “spoilers”.
Now, what does this have to do with Netflix? Armed with 75 million subscribers, Netflix has been an integral element in the inception of the culture of “binge watching” television shows. The platform began creating its own original series in 2011, and distributed full seasons of these shows all at once. Netflix has an incredible amount of power in not just the online streaming industry, but in the entertainment industry in general. Binge watching didn’t even exist before Netflix, and with the creation of original series, Netflix has brought this trend to an entirely new level.
Social media is obviously an essential part of a show’s growth because it can be used to create buzz and help build a fanbase (check out the evolution of social media here). But with Netflix original series, like House of Cards, there is no buzz build-up on social media before each episode every week, because they’re all released at the same time. #HouseOfCards might be a trending topic on Twitter for a week when a new season is released, but then will ultimately be forgotten about until the next season is announced–while shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones end up trending every single week when a new episode airs. Not to mention, releasing entire seasons at a time does not incite consumers to keep their Netflix subscriptions for an extended period of time. You can sign up, pay your 8 bucks for the month, watch the entire season in a few days, and then cancel your subscription. It’s not necessarily a business savvy decision on Netflix’s part. So why do it? The platform doesn’t have to conform to the traditional TV-viewing format, and clearly the freedom of being able to watch a show anytime, anywhere has become extremely important to the modern viewer. Offering full seasons of fresh new series is completely changing the landscape of how media is consumed–which is something Netflix’s competitors can’t necessarily compete with, giving Netflix a unique edge in the market.
The faster you binge watch a show, the less likely you are to see any spoilers for it, right? If you watch the entirety of Season 3 of House of Cards the weekend it’s released, statistically, there is less of a chance of stumbling across a spoiler for the ending of the show, because you watched it so quickly. Then again, you’re only going to binge watch really great shows, correct? The better the show, the more likely you or anyone else is going to tweet a spoiler of it.
And herein lies the paradox. Does the ability of social media to distribute spoilers fuel the binge watching of shows on Netflix? Or does the ability to binge watch shows on Netflix fuel the amount of spoilers on social media? What do you think?