The Wonder of Netflix Streaming (and How Television Watching Will Be Forever Changed) 

This isn’t a groundbreaking opinion, but we’re in the waning days of the television “season”. It may not be for fie or ten years, but the end is nearing. There’s a bunch of reasons why, and many of them are obvious. As technology has advanced, folks don’t want to be tethered to their couches to watch TV—they want to watch a couple of episodes while waiting at the airport, or half an episode waiting in line, or maybe an episode on the laptop at lunch to take a break from the day. Nor, does your average television watcher want to go a year (or often longer) waiting to catch up on the seasons for a show that they missed.

These are all things that are slowly changing with Netflix (and Hulu and each network having its own apps and a million other media that will eventually shake out to a few). Smart networks make sure back episodes and seasons are available for folks who want to catch up. Netflix and Hulu (and cable providers) stream TV and movies to your phone. Much like the early days of MP3s and iPods, the technology is there and, shortly, the networks and content producers will adapt or die.

But, for me, and I think for the television industry, the big change is the ability to make sure that enough episodes, enough content is there for a viewer to get a true feel for the show. Rather than an episode (or two, if you’re lucky), you can put out 6 or 7 (or 13…) episodes and viewers can binge on a few to really decide if they like a show.

The reason that this comes to mind is the show “Chuck”, a show about a nerd who gets a computer stuck in his head and becomes a spy. It was a great show, pretty well reviewed, and ended up lasting five seasons (though mostly because it was on NBC, and it nearly got cancelled every year). Why does this show make me think these changes are imminent and are good for the television industry?

My fiancee.

Had I described “Chuck” to her, I don’t think she would have agreed to watch it. Or, at a minimum, it would have been a struggle. And every week, waiting for another episode, while the show figures itself out, would have increased the chance of her giving up on it.

However, with Netflix, she’s been mainlining “Chuck”. Being able to watch a few episodes in a row, to get the characters and humor, to more easily get the in-jokes and references, it’s a massive difference from when I was watching it live. She adores the show. There are many other shows that have died early, low-rated deaths that I think would have excelled in a Netflix world[1].

At first, networks will struggle. They’ll have to adjust from the shotgun approach to pilots. Instead, picking a few episodes, committing to a half-season, and airing it all at once, or uninterrupted over a few weeks (with episodes online immediately) will allow networks/studios to generate more interest. Of course, this is already happening, at least in part.

When all is said and done, Netflix probably won’t be there. Networks and studios seem to always be behind the times, and they’ll start locking their content down to their own portals (they already are) rather than entirely embracing the new distribution models. But, in the end, television seasons will be much more like the recent “House of Cards” seasons on Netflix than the way “Chuck” was presented on NBC.

  1. The best example, “Community”. If NBC/Sony/whomever weren’t idiots, they’d have the entire series on Netflix and each week, they’d be doing episode footnotes online/twitter/facebook/wherever. “Go watch the second episode of season 2, and you’ll find tonight’s easter eggs.” Or something that’s far more engaging than that, but you get the picture.