by Will Hillard
For the longest time, networks owned television. The medium was exclusively theirs, as the idea of online streaming had yet to be fully conceived. The dynamics of network shows were fairly simple: the show played, and people either watched or didn’t watch. Based on the viewing numbers and ratings, network's would adjust their shows, pursuing different stories or possibly canceling the show entirely. A show was meant to be watched slowly, a typical season taking a year to watch.
Obvious to everyone living in 2016, this has entirely changed. In 2007, Netflix started online streaming. Their innovation and pursuit of “the new” drove the last nail in their competitor Blockbuster’s coffin as more and more people turned to the internet to find entertainment. With seemingly unlimited content, people began to consume movies and television at a greatly increased rate. With the site’s addition of entire seasons, watching television was easy as pressing play and not moving during the five second buffer period between episodes, as the immediate playing of the next episode enabled the audience’s addictive tendencies, capitalizing on the “just one more episode” feeling.
Netflix took note of this, releasing their first original show “House of Cards” in 2013, a fast paced political drama, unconstrained by the traditional rules that follow a network television show. The show had no barring on nudity, language, or violence, opening doors for previously unavailable avenues of plot. The biggest and most significant change from traditional television was that the show made an unprecedented move, releasing their entire first season all at once. No longer constricting people to watching one episode a week, the culture of binging started to grow.
Another benefit from the new release style was that ratings or viewership could not influence the story and its direction, allowing the writers to pursue avenues and stories that they may have initially wanted. An incredible recent example of this would be the summer’s breakout hit series, “Stranger Things”. Initially turned down by multiple networks, the 80’s themed sci-fi found a place at Netflix, where it would go on to develop a cult following and be signed on for a eagerly anticipated second season. The show creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, were allowed to pace and structure the show to their likening, revealing plot twists and curtail story information at a cadence that might not fly well on a traditional week by week show. But the cross genre show excelled for it, motivating viewers to watch the first season by teasing the audience with new developments and plot twists, though never over showing their hand. In the case of television, it seems that rules were indeed meant to be broken, as the increasing surge of original Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime shows are a clear indicator of the audience's need for successive entertainment.