Entertainment TV How binge watching TV has become a new national pastime
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How binge watching TV has become a new national pastime

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 TV is changing. WE are changing.

Our thirst for dramatic stories, hilarious comedies and epic sagas is equalled only by the amount of must-see TV each year. It appears we can’t get enough, and our appetite is growing.

With advancing technology and better media download and streaming services, it’s becoming common for viewers to power through entire seasons of a TV series in a matter of days.

One avid Quickflix Game of Thrones fan even knocked out the first three seasons of the international sensation in a lazy 5.2 days.

Australia’s media streaming services Foxtel and Quickflix have found more users have been firing up their TVs, or mobile devices, for extended binge sessions than ever before.

In a recent survey, the habits of Foxtel subscribers revealed more than 55 per cent regularly binged on three or more episodes of a TV series in one sitting, every month. No doubt the high-end comedy and drama the company has been buying up over the last 12 months is paying off.

Likewise, roughly half of the streaming media from Australian online movie and TV service Quickflix is television, with HD TVs and mobile devices drawing roughly equal amounts (a third each) of this content.

One avid Quickflix Game of Thrones fan even knocked out the first three seasons of the international sensation in a lazy 5.2 days. They could probably do better if they took sleep out of that equation. Pfft. Lightweight.

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It’s also interesting to note that Quickflix’s TV streaming demand jumps about 20 per cent every quarter, meaning more subscribers are opting to watch TV when they want, not when they have to, as prescribed by major networks. It’s compelling data.

Responding to this growing movement, Foxtel has taken a cue from the user-centric folks at Netflix (US), recently announcing plans to release the Netflix Original series, House of Cards, season two, on 15 February.

At this point you’re likely leaping out of your seat, shouting, ‘Australia catches up with the rest of the world!’ It’s ok. Just explain what you just read to your co-workers and then continue reading.

Available via Foxtel’s On Demand service, the second season of the multi-award-winning political drama, starring Kevin Spacey, will be available to view in its entirety. You can now submit that leave request for your annual ‘staycation’ and binge watch the entire series. Just make sure you Google ‘deep vein thrombosis’ first.

It’s not just laypeople fond of the act. Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Elephant Man, Silence of the Lambs, and recently, Thor) last year discovered the American crime drama, Breaking Bad, watching the entire five seasons over the course of two binge watching weeks. In a fan letter sent to the series’ lead, Bryan Cranston, Hopkins admitted, “you and all the cast are the best actors I’ve ever seen”.  

binge watching tv
Breaking Bad changed the way we watch TV. Photo: Supplied

For those playing catch-up, like ol’ Hannibal Lector here, binge watching TV is a fantastic way to watch a TV series for the first time. But for those of us who jump on board from the first episode, the weekly wait for each and every episode can be ex-cru-ti-a-ting.

While the dominant practice for major networks is to air new TV episodes at regular intervals, waiting a week for the next episode of your favourite show will soon feel quite antiquated. What is this; the Middle Ages? Who wants to wait another week for the next episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo??

This long-standing, increasingly archaic, reality makes the alternative of binge watching very appealing.

Of course, long-running TV shows, that respond to the ebb and flow of the cultural tide – like The Simpsons, COPS, Dr. Phil or Neighbours – will likely remain on a weekly airing schedule … for now.

But before we get too excited, a major factor to consider when looking at this trend, is whether or not a studio will deem an abundance of new shows bankable enough to throw their money behind.

Would House of Cards have been made without the star power of Spacey, or the writing pedigree of David Fincher, along with the industry-tested team of writers, producers and directors? It’s doubtful. Consider it Netflix dipping their toes in a very big pool, very successfully.

The reality is we’ve still got a long way to go before you’ll be able to reach for your remote control and binge watch a large and varied array of studio-funded, independently-produced TV; shows that would normally spend years building up a cult following before crossing over into the mainstream. It’s a risk the big companies will need to be handheld into taking.

Until then, we can expect regular serves of broad-interest, mainstream TV – the equivalent of pulling two triggers on a double-barrelled televisual shotgun loaded with modern paradigm – which will make a swift dash to the shelves of your local DVD store. Considering our current fondness for consuming vast amounts of high-quality TV in marathon viewing sessions, that isn’t such a bad thing.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the age of binge-watching.

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