It's no secret that television has changed. When you think of where we are in 2017 (with so many ways to watch and stream entertainment) vs. where we were in 2007 (when our biggest dilemmas were cable channels vs network, and whether a Netflix subscription was a good idea) it's clearly been a long road traveled.
As with any significant change, there's been a balance of gains and losses as old trends have ended, and new ones sprung up in their place. One of the most obvious losses has been the network TV zeitgeist - a space that all viewers occupied together, but has since fractured, as people now absorb TV programming on their own terms, and in their own time frames.
Here's How Binge Watching Ruined Network TV.
Empty Water Cooler
The lifeblood of old network TV series (especially serialized dramas, mysteries and procedurals of the early 2000s) was fan chatter and word of mouth interaction. Shows like Lost, 24, Grey's Anatomy all thrived of "water cooler talk" or "dinner table discussion," and each show strived to be the topic of weekly discussion on the mouths of the masses.
With the era of binge watching, the idea of TV as a weekly topic of pop-culture fixation is all but gone, taking the idea of there being weekly topics of discussion with it. Nowadays, people experience TV shows at separate times and paces, according to individual preference. There are still a handful of shows that draw crowds weekly and own the discussion - but most of them require the shock and awe and shorter seasonal attention span of cable. For network TV series, the water cooler is all but empty, these days.prevnext
Remember the sweet agony of having to wait another week to get that next piece of a puzzle, or answer that shocking cliffhanger? Or see how the bombshell development of an episode reframes the show going forward? In the days of "Next Episode starts in..." that kind of pleasure/pain combination is a distant memory.
Network TV thrived on its episodic nature, as a means of pacing and working the audience. Binge watching has done away with all that, as the level of viewer impatience makes it hard for network series to build up to big reveals or climaxes, fool audiences with red herrings or keep them involved long enough to deliver a satisfying payoff. Modern audiences increasingly want to see it all now, and analyze later - which is impossible for the network TV model.prevnext
Comedy has been especially hit hard by the binge watch era, as sitcoms carried television entertainment from its golden era into the modern age.
However, in a binge watch era, sitcoms become increasingly obsolete. NBC went from housing original comedic shows like The Office, Parks and Rec and 30 Rock to a dwindling factory of failed mulit-cam laugh track shows. Fox is still a house of comedic originals (The Mick) and ABC has kept the fires burning with its lineup (Goldbergs, Modern Family, Fresh Off the Boat, etc...).
Yet, even with those successes, it's hard for any sitcom to become king of the zeitgeist like in the past. The days of America tuning in to laugh in mass at network comedies are long gone, and comedies are making the jump to the shores of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, adapting themselves for the binge watch crowd.prevnext
One great thing about the old world of network TV is that it gave viewers a shared sense of community that bridged many other gaps. If we couldn't agree on or discuss anything, we could at least discuss what happened on this or that show the other night - and what we wanted to see happen next (or not). If you were a hardcore fan of the show, there was a sense of community you had with other people also taking the journey, and shows like Lost even inspired weekly viewing party events at bars and restaurants, where complete strangers united over shared love a TV show.
These days, TV fandom is a world of roving bands of different gangs. The idea of experiencing the journey at a shared pace is extinct, as everyone feels entitled to his/her own experience. Even with certain genres (read: superhero shows) still keeping fans invested in a week-to-week journey, there are fans who refuse to be handcuffed to a timetable, opting to wait until shows hit Netflix or other streaming services where they can binge watch at leisure. From news to entertainment (and soon sporting events as well), network TV's ability to be a communal platform has faded immensely.prevnext
Hey, the money wasn't going into our pockets (that's for sure) but we do have to mention: the era of binge watching has been a (fatal?) blow to the business of network television. Along with the need to experience content all at once (or at one's own pacing) has also come the need to experience it ad-free.
As always, advertisers have scrambled to adapt to the changing market (keep an eye out for that increased product placement in your favorite streaming shows!), but as for the landscape of network television, the lines of measurement in ratings and ad dollars have had to be redrawn.prev