The Case Against Netflix’s Binge-Watching Model

I love binge-watching TV as much as the next obsessive. I wasted many weekends of my youth stretching the tape on bootleg Simpsons tapes. I devoured Battlestar Galactica on DVD over a few days in bed with the flu, and downloaded a few hundred episodes of Scrubs after a particularly bad break-up. As Aya Cash, star of the excellent televisions show You’re The Worst tweeted, “I’ve been binge-watching shows since it was just called depression.”

As an aside, if you haven’t watched You’re The Worst yet, you should make a note to binge it over the weekend.

So I don’t think binge-watching television is a recent phenomenon, but I’m sure Netflix is to blame for bringing the concept to the mainstream. Netflix is the perfect vessel. It provides a massive back catalogue of television shows you’ve been meaning to watch for years, with an autoplay setting that begins a new episode before the credits finish rolling on the last.

But Netflix has brought something new to binge watching, and I don’t like it. It has pioneered the ‘binge release’, dropping all episodes of its original productions on a single day. Now, when a new Netflix show premieres, I find myself in a race to avoid spoilers from those seemingly prepared to watch every ep on the day of release.

When Making a Murderer premiered, I ploughed through the whole depressing saga in one weekend. I didn’t want to. I desperately wanted to take a breather and leave the awful spectacle for a while, but Twitter was awash with theories and spoilers, so I had to keep pace.

Now I’m a season and a half behind on Orange Is the New Black. I know something awful happens at the end of season four, because I couldn’t avoid the shock of fans on Twitter and Facebook just a few hours after the last season dropped. Seeing so many not-so-vague tweets before I’d even had a chance to start the new season has made me less inclined to catch up. Besides, I’ve missed the window to discuss the show with friends, now everyone has moved on to Stranger Things.

This binge release is great for publicity, I’m sure, but it also makes a show’s time in the spotlight, and in the zeitgeist, fleeting. Game Of Thrones has benefited from the anxious wait of its fans between episodes. Would the Red Wedding have had as much impact if it was just another episode of a whole-series release?

I’m sure Netflix has data to prove the binge drop gets viewers hooked on a series, but I think there’s room for another model – a kind of hybrid binge.

Back before the original series of Dexter premiered, the first three episodes of the show leaked in high quality on the internet. Those first three episodes formed a perfect arc, introducing the eponymous lead, the Ice Truck Killer, and the mystery of their connection. I’m convinced those three episodes were leaked on purpose, to create hype for a show that was a bit of a difficult sell.

Three episodes is the perfect amount to release. It’s just enough to get an audience hooked, but still manageable for a busy person to tackle in a weekend. After a three-episode premiere, Netflix could release new episodes on a weekly schedule, keeping viewers in suspense, and creating a season-long buzz. I know it sounds crazy, but I have a feeling it would work. I have the data from years of watching episodic television to back me up.

I doubt the company will take my advice and ditch the binge release, but I really hope they do. I just can’t keep devoting whole weekends to one television show. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a full season of Bojack Horseman to watch.

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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