July 2, 2015

Binge-Watching Isn’t A Trend Anymore. It’s The Norm.

A new study released this week proclaimed that 92% of ‘consumers’ have binge viewed TV programs. That made for a lot of great headlines–there was, however, a giant footnote to that stat. It seems the study, conducted by TiVo, consisted solely of current TiVo users, who, given that they’re spending hundreds of dollars a year on a high-end DVR system, are probably far more prone to binge view than the average user, and thus not the segment to hold up as representative of all TV viewers.

Does that mean we need to throw the results of the study out? Or are TiVo users (like TDG subscribers) just ahead of the curve?

While in-and-of-itself not representative of general US binge viewing, the TiVo study is directionally correct, indicative of where things are heading. And while it’s unlikely that 92% of the population is binge viewing (it’s hard to get 92% of Americans to do anything, even pay for TV service!), we do think that a sizable majority have indulged and will continue to do so.

The basis for this claim? A study by TDG that asked adult broadband users (people that use broadband at home, not just those that watch broadband TV) if they’d binge viewed different types of programming over the past year. The results are illustrated below.

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First, it is important to note that TDG’s definition of television binge viewing (watching two or more episodes of the same series in one sitting) was less demanding than TiVo’s (which required viewing three back-to-back episodes of a series).

That said, TDG’s research found that binging on TV programs is indeed a widespread behavior. For example, two-thirds (65%) of ABUs binge on regularly-scheduled shows at least once a year (e.g., multiple episodes of The Simpsons), with 26% doing so weekly. Half (50%) binge view DVR-recorded shows at least once a year, 17% weekly. Transactional and subscription VOD services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) encourage similar behavior, with 51% of ABUs binge viewing on shows from these services, 21% weekly.

Though TDG’s binge viewing numbers are significantly less than TiVo’s, these counts are quite impressive and illustrate just how mainstream binge viewing has become. Clearly, the behavior is an important part of the TV viewing experience and will remain so. This is further fueled by the fact that on-demand services like Netflix actively encourage binge viewing by releasing an entire season’s worth of episodes of new original series at once (e.g., House of Cards).

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense
How should networks and other content owners deal with binge viewing? Should they try and fight it by withholding their content from VOD and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu? Or should they roll with it and figure out coping strategies?

We’d highly recommend the latter. Once the proverbial cat is out of the bag, it’s impossible to get it back in, and binge viewing is popular for a reason: it allows viewers to recreate the television equivalent of a page turner, moving from episode to episode to find out what happens next (often till the wee hours of the morning).

TDG believes binge viewing will become increasingly commonplace, and for a couple of reasons. First: the coming of age of Generation Z, a segment raised on binge viewing. They barely recognize the existence of linear TV and will continue to watch shows in a non-linear fashion.

The second reason, one that’s been discussed here before, is the growing library of quality television shows. Viewers can’t keep up with all of them and turn to bingeing to catch up on shows they’ve missed (sometimes a season at a time). Teens and twenty-somethings will look to explore catalogues of shows that aired before they were old enough to appreciate them (e.g., The Sopranos or Lost), all of which leads to binge viewing becoming the rule rather than the exception for a large part of the viewing audience.

If you’re a content owner, here are three best practices that can make binge-viewing work for everyone.

Adapt the Ad Load to the Experience – Constant commercial interruptions do not a pleasant binge-viewing experience make, so infrequent commercial breaks, with countdowns to let the viewer know how much time is left until the show comes back on, are ideal. Hulu does an excellent job with this, and viewers do not seem to mind the ads.

Second-Screen Content Helps Maintain Loyalty – Viewers who are engaged in the world of your show are likely to want to learn more about it. Providing behind-the-scenes commentary, video, actor bios, and the like can help create a more engaged fan, one more likely to recommend the series to a family member or friend.

Make Your Content Discoverable – Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to find the show you’re looking for. Make it easy for viewers to find all the episodes they want. Make sure that services like TV.com and Yidio are updated with the latest venues for your shows. Update your metatags so discovery engines have an easy way to find different episodes. Viewers don’t like being sleuths: if they are frustrated, they will just turn away and find something else to watch.

Binge viewing is without a doubt changing the television viewing experience, making watching a series akin to reading a novel. This change is here to stay and content creators need to adapt to it.

Stick with TDG and stay ahead of the curve.

Alan Wolk is one of the industry’s most influential thought leaders and futurists. He writes frequently on advertising models, OTT and social TV.

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