Tag Archives: Binge watching

The Economics of Binge Watching

I have watched the entirety of ABC’s Scandal in the past two weeks. That’s 39 episodes.

The first two seasons, or 29 episodes, were on Netflix streaming. That’s how I got hooked. Every time an episode ended with a surprising twist, I hit “play” on the next episode like a rat in a cage. It was a no-brainer and free – unless you count my Netflix subscription and cable bill.

But then I had to figure out how to watch the first half of Season 3 before it starts up again on ABC in February.  Hulu and ABC.com weren’t showing the first five episodes and on ABC On Demand, there was no first episode and I had to wait a week for the next two to become available. (I have Time Warner Cable,  some of these limitations seem to have to do with their licensing deal with ABC.) I could buy individual episodes for $2.99 on iTunes or Amazon streaming, or the whole 10 episode partial season for $39.99.

I was sweating. I took a breather and thought it about it for a couple of days, thinking I could outsmart the On-Demand schedule and eventually catch everything. I also could have skipped a few episodes. But given the crazy pace at which the plot twists and turns, I decided that wasn’t an option. After shaking my fist at the dealers – I mean dealmakers – who made sure once I had my taste I had to pay premium, I eventually succumbed and purchased a few of the episodes on iTunes until I was caught up to the On-Demand offerings and banged through the rest.

Is the business model as predatory as it felt? It’s not that I think the people making TV shouldn’t profit – I am a SAG and WGA member. It was the feeling that I was being manipulated, my weakness exploited. If everyone who gets hooked in the tween-season of a show ends up buying just a handful of episodes at $2.99 a pop, that can add up to a lot of revenue. But that assumes that I am not an outlier in my TV consumption habits. I am old enough to not expect everything to be free; young enough to know how to stream and own a wired TV; and have worked in television and digital so I know how to figure out my viewing options and am not averse to watching on my computer. According to iTunes top TV downloads list, the five episodes I was wrestling over are #5-9 on their chart. So maybe I’m the norm.

But I am curious how many downloads that is. Ten? Ten thousand? A million? And whose pockets is my Olivia Pope habit lining? I hope it’s Shonda Rhimes and the writers and actors.

I intended to write a post about Team Olivia vs. Team Mellie. And why I want Olivia to hook up with Jake. And why I think Fitz and Mellie have more heat than Fitz and Olivia. Maybe it was all those lessons from the Gladiators that made me follow the money instead.