Re-thinking the future of TV in the Age of Binge

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By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist
Our television viewing habits are changing dramatically!

In fact, television viewing can only correctly be called video viewing now, since much of the time we are watching on laptops, phones, or tablets. Even when we are watching on a TV screen, large numbers of us are viewing pre-recorded shows or ones streamed via Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. What we aren’t doing is watching TV in real time. And we sure as heck aren’t watching the commercials!

With the availability of entire seasons of shows on Netflix and other services, consumers are increasingly engaging in binge viewing: watching multiple episodes of a series in one sitting or over a series of days or evenings. No more waiting patiently for next week’s episode.

Binge viewing along with the ability to skip commercials stands to change many aspects of the way we think about television, from series writing to advertising. Consider just a few effects:

For decades, shows have been written to create natural breaks — where the commercials appear. To keep viewers from switching channels during the breaks, they usually come at a mini-cliffhanger. The writing and the entire pace of a show used to be shaped with the commercial breaks in mind.

Similarly, each season ends generally on a cliffhanger or with a major, series-changing revelation. In many cases, even individual episodes end that way. The series “24” was famous for this its breath-holding endings.

Traditionally, television had seasons, with new series starting in the fall and episodes appearing with predictability until summer. Holiday episodes are planned and filmed to air on the holidays. Because of the way they are filmed, things get complicated when, for instance, child actors are involved and they have a growth spurt one year, ending up looking older than their screen age.

Now, companies like Netflix are creating series made for streaming. They are filming multiple seasons before ever releasing the “pilot.” They don’t have to worry about holidays or connecting the show to any particular season, because people will be watching it at all different times. They can largely avoid issues of aging, pregnancy, and departing actors.

Binge viewing offers the opportunity for better shows. When there’s no guarantee that a significant number of viewers will be sitting down at a specific time looking for something to watch, quality becomes a bigger factor. Like picking a book, we’ll hear about a good show from friends and “pick it up” on Netflix. Or we’ll go looking for a good series to get addicted to.

Also, with binge viewing, the creators can expect viewers to give them a little more time. They don’t have to contend with a viewer being tempted to switch channels during a slow spot. That means writers and producers will be more willing to take time to move the plot along or fill in the plot gaps that they might have skimmed over before. They can give extra depth to characters and give them more time to grow and deepen.

Image from Umami

But there’s more

Now, let’s combine binge viewing with the second screen phenomenon. More and more of us pull out our phones, tablets, or laptop while we watch. We may look up information or engage in conversation with others during the show. The Xbox One, just announced, is going to make that second screen experience even better by enabling you to bring up a browser window right next to the show on your screen. Other manufacturers are sure to follow suit.

And this is where advertisers are going to have to go, now that commercials are fast becoming a thing of the past:  to the second screen, and particularly to the side-by-side screen.

That means they are going to have to adopt a Youtility approach, as Jay Baer would call it. Sure, advertisers will use product placement as one tactic. Product placement alone offers only limited opportunities, though. Instead, they will need to find rich ways to supplement the viewing experience for users.

A myriad of possibilities exists. Certainly, one of the most compelling opportunities is providing ways for binge viewers to connect with other binge viewers. The majority of us won’t miss commercials or being tied to watching our favorite show during a specific time. But we will miss the camaraderie that comes from watching with others or knowing that co-workers or schoolmates are also watching and will be eager to talk about the show tomorrow. Twitter only enhances that camaraderie as we talk right during the episode.

How do binge viewers share their passion?  Chances are that others are binge watching the season at the same time you are. Maybe even the same episode.  I expect service providers and advertisers to build experiences that connect users who are in the midst of a binge and craving someone to gossip and share with.

Advertisers can also come up with ways to provide facts, trivia, and behind the scenes information in a way that engages users while marketing their products. Perhaps instead of a drinking game, advertisers provide a similar online game that rewards users with status or even enters them in a contest when certain words, gestures, or items appear on screen. Making it a multi-player experience would also provide that connection with other binge viewers.

I expect we’ll also see advertisers paying to work more closely with the film makers to integrate their second screen experience. They might use product placement in conjunction with the second screen experience, or provide behind-the-scenes video that includes an ad or requires an action in order to for the user to access it.

Perhaps we’ll see new video formats that allow the film makers to branch within a video. The video contains two different versions of a scene and the second screen interaction determines which is shown. For example, the two protagonists are finally going to kiss. Who should initiate it? The user gets to choose, but only after he or she takes some action desirable to the advertiser in the second screen experience.

Once again, technology is disrupting advertising and marketing. Once again, we should applaud it. Why? Because the new world of binge viewing and the second screen is going to force us to come up with social offers: experiences that consumers find rewarding and enjoyable, instead of something they are simply forced to endure in order to watch their favorite show.

neicole crepeauNeicole Crepeau is the Senior Marketing Manager at Vizit Corporation, and blogs at Coherent Social Media. She’s the creative force behind Clipsi, a business social collaboration tool. Connect with Neicole on Twitter at @neicolec

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  • Kristine Allcroft

    You do speak the truth. When I read your post all I could think about was “I feel old” . . . and yet, I have to admit that I’ve been an active participant in the new “bingeing” behavior. Great post and good assessment of current leisure behavior. Mostly, in our down time we do like to connect. But it used to be we would wait to get to work the next day and talk around the water cooler. In our microwave society, that will become a thing of the past. Many thanks for posting!

  • Yet, Neicole (excellent piece BTW), it seems all of this is just more of the same! Let’s break it down…back in the day when TV was new, advertisers had to create messages to appeal to a buyer prospect. They used commercials in between programs.

    Today, with all the screens at our fingertips, advertisers need to find ways to appeal to buyers/prospects.

    What’s changed are obviously the options WE consumers have for product and service selection. For advertisers, the base mode and method has remained the same — how to get to the consumer with that sales message.

  • I don’t know that we should necessarily applaud this. Yes, if you can make a second screen advertisement work, that’s going to be great. We live in the information age. We want more and more content surrounding our favorite things (such as TV shows). Good marketers will come up with ways to connect with the audience in a meaningful way that will benefit the company as well as the audience. However, I fear that as we move away from traditional commercials that we’re going to have more and more studios becoming closer with businesses. This could result in our favorite tv shows having to go beyond product placement to more intrusive “commercials” within the show itself. After all, the money men behind the show are really making the decision, not the writers or directors.

    I just hope that marketers look for solutions that are advantageous for themselves and the viewers. But, I fear it could get out of control.

  • Neicole Crepeau

    I certainly understand that concern. And it’s remarkable how marketers/advertisers can go the lowest common denominator route and misuse a new technology. But, the difference here is that we viewers will have a lot more choice and competition, since we’re no longer locked into the limited choices of what is available during this particular time slot. That means that shows in which the advertising is too intrusive will probably not get watched, because there are so many other shows that are just as good or better and don’t have the intrusive advertising.

  • Neicole Crepeau

    Agreed. But similar to the change that social has brought, advertisers must now find ways to truly engage viewers and entice them, rather than broadcasting to a passive audience that could not avoid the content.

  • I’m ok with new, engaging and interesting ad functionality in my online viewing of programs, movies, etc, etc. I just hope that as marketers try new ideas they don’t force us to ignore them by jumping to a new channel, er, I mean platform or media. I already am getting frustrated with all the split screen ads that show up while watching past episode shows on traditional broadcast sites like ABC.com, NBC.com, etc. etc. It’s turning me off these programs all together.

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  • starshiplove

    The only thing that ticks me off about TV is that there are times I desperately want to pay some company money to watch something, and they don’t even offer it, or they offer it so late to make it irrelevant.

    For instance, All of the sports leagues in the US have to be dragged screaming and kicking into offering some sort of online offering, and they’re still subject to blackouts due to idiotic reasons.

    And Game of Thrones for instance is pirated by millions (maybe tens of millions of people) who have zero legal options to purchase it. What legal options exist won’t come around until about a year after the season ends. It’s absurd.

    The entire market here is just ripe for innovation.

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