It’s not TV, it’s the Internet

Internet-based services have changed TV viewing.

by Hemang Sharma

During winter break, my social media news feeds were full of new fans and haters of TV shows. These were friends and colleagues who I knew weren’t into certain shows, but suddenly, they were critics of the entire series. These news feeds were flooding with people’s comments about story arcs, characters and how they were now caught up, anticipating the next season.

Yes, as far as TV watching is concerned, “marathoning” is the way to go for many viewers. Facilitated by the likes of Netflix, Hulu and many other legal and illegal streaming services, marathoning allows viewers to experience back-to-back episodes of a new series, often multiple, in a short span of time. Health advocates may argue otherwise, but hey, we are Americans. We are the original couch potatoes. We love TV.

Marathoning serves people who are busy when the show usually airs or just prefer not to waste their time on weekly broadcasts. Simply give in to the perseverance of a friend who has been nagging you to watch a series, find a place that streams all the episodes and plug in your headphones. We all have done it. One day you’re dodging the particular AMC or FX series, and the next week you are 50 episodes deep and can’t get enough.

There is nothing wrong with marathoning, of course. It is just a way that serves the viewers. No more sitting through ridiculous commercials during NBC’s Thursday comedy slot, putting off homework until well into the wee hours of the morning because of “Dexter” or spending six days dreaming about what might happen on the next “Suits” episode. Marathoning a series between seasons is nothing short of heavenly. Sure, you might be a little late to the party of “Breaking Bad,” but at least now you can be a participant at the next season’s premiere party your friend is hosting in the fall.

The smartest and quickest example that the entertainment industry is picking up on this trend is Netflix. America’s oldest on-demand service now streams a wide array of TV shows, some that aren’t even in production anymore. And the public is appreciative. Netflix’s subscribers now count close to 34 million. Its profits are measurably high, and it is doing something which only premier channels like HBO and Showtime could do until now: producing premier content without network backing.

“House of Cards,”  a new Netflix original series, speaks to this model. Debuting earlier this month, “House of Cards” premiered not one episode but the entire series on the same day. Budgeted at $100 million, the series produced by and for Netflix is available for free even to non-Netflix subscribers. Netflix plans to introduce five more original shows per year, with reports of Hulu following suit.

Let’s analyze this. Premier networks like HBO and Showtime  provide commercial-free, original content, identified with excellent production values and an A-list cast, but they cost about $12–15 per month. Networks like CBS, ABC and NBC produce massive numbers of shows, but they need viewers to tune in at certain times to register ratings and make money from advertising. Neither of these two models serve our need to watch TV on the go, except for the few available episodes they stream on their websites.

Internet providers like Netflix are the sane middle ground when it comes to TV watching in America. You can’t take your TV on the bus, but you can stream it on your phone or tablet when you’re on the Campus Connector at 6 a.m. Even without producing original shows, it is cheap, convenient and simply a better business model that is starting to break the network monopoly in the TV industry.