Audience Fatigue: Has Netflix ruined TV for me?
Adventure Time has bored me, Game Of Thrones is getting there and Mad Men’s finale was a nice send off to a long series. The likes of which I don’t think I will commit to again anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong — I love those shows: their character arcs, universes, stories, etc. But it’s just not the same anymore.
Lately I had the chance to put a lot of thought into the current state of TV and On-Demand media. I would like to share these ideas here. I have pestered anyone willing to listen to me. So far, it looks like I’m not the only one that has been thinking about this.
This issue, I believe, has nothing to do with personal tastes in genres or media. I’m talking about series where I have consumed at least 75% of its current run, meaning I was deeply invested in these worlds. Feel free to change the titles to fit your own experience.
Has binge-watching ruined classic “once a week” TV for me?
I don’t think so. At least not completely.
Maybe it’s a problem with long-running series? With filler content in general? It’s not just the urge to binge-watch, that I’m sure, because the third season of House of Cards I watched throughout a whole week was lukewarm at best. Or at least it felt like it.
In the case of Game Of Thrones I think HBO have painted themselves to a corner. We now expect at least one Red-Wedding-type event per season, so whatever happens between those feels pretty much like padding.
Contrast with what happened a few weekends ago. My girlfriend and I watched the whole set of Puella Magi Madoka Magica in one day and enjoyed it from start to finish. That was roughly 6 hours of a well-rounded story that did not overstay its welcome.
Maybe that’s the key here:
Stories that don’t overstay their welcome.
What about long-runners? Take The Simpsons, for example. It’s a cliché by now to discuss which was the best season ever and what season was the breaking point when the series lost all its charm and appeal. Or, as the idiom goes, when did The Simpson jump the shark?
Although it has a sit-com format, as in: almost all episodes are self contained stories, I consider its longevity helpful for the point I want to make.
It may have weaker and stronger seasons, no doubt about that, but I bet fans actually have a favourite season span that varies depending on when they started watching the show. Since the series has little to no overarching plot, you can start watching at any point and within three episodes you already get the gist of character personalities and dynamics, which is all you need to enjoy the show.
When audiences graduate to shows like South Park or Family Guy (who they too have reached their own long-runner status years ago), a new set of freshmen arrive to the series. This turnover rate obviously wanes with time, mind you. What could then be expected is that the graduates from class of ‘98 will have a different favourite season span than class of ‘04. Based on what I could pick up from conversations and lurking on the web, I tend to believe this is a 3 to 5 season span. Both groups will surely have differing opinions as to when the shark was jumped too.
This audience turnover cannot happen on shows conceived with a strong dependence on continuity or that have mutated into one (here’s looking at you, Adventure Time). So you either agree to watch the whole thing and get up to speed or suffer from a serious case of commitment anxiety. An anxiety that increases exponentially the longer the series is.
Sure, there are rare cases of all-time fans, but you can replicate this same exercise with any series that has reached at least 5 seasons on air. Just look at the dive the ratings of Season 6 of Adventure Time had and compare it to average rating from earlier seasons. Still impressive numbers though, but you could say that Finn & Jake have already peaked.
Closure of the overall narrative has to do a complicated balance act
between audience patience and commercial profitability.
Networks know about this and work on new shows worthy of the slowly fading audiences. Regular Show and Steven Universe come to mind in this case.
Then what is this problem I feel that was caused by Netflix and its kin?
It’s not that audiences grow tired of series faster, it’s the fact that they have so many options available to them (supply is violently exceeding demand) and are so readily available that whoever provides their content-of-choice becomes almost interchangeable to them. This, effectively, commoditizes entertainment media — Something that has already happened with video games, my personal area of expertise, in great part due to lower barriers of entry for new developers and the increasingly non-curated virtual stores flooding with content. Not that it’s a bad thing, this has brought a new indie-renaissance-ish thing going on. But remember…
But fear not! Just as this guy’s plan failed, the market has defeated its own self-generated villain by mutating into newer ways of “watching television”. Ridiculously specific niches of content have cropped out, spearheaded mostly by YouTube. Let’s Plays and Unboxings are a thing. The former being the number one traffic generator for the popular online video platform. A whole post could be dedicated to this phenomenon.
This means that audiences, having so many immediate sources of content available, are less forgiving when whatever they are consuming is not hitting the mark. This leads me to a rather obvious conclusion:
In a world with so much on demand entertainment supply,
narrative filler content is no longer an option.
I want to believe that this new mutation of consumer behaviour will give rise to something that Anime or English TV (Hi, Sherlock!) have learned already. Shorter runs don’t mean smaller life time value for an intellectual property. Handle their narrative correctly, leave room for discussion and don’t stretch it unnecessarily. There’s a reason why people are still talking about the original run of Evangelion to this day and it consists of only 26 episodes! Fans and critics have created more content around the franchise than its original creators, alternate endings and re-releases included. Right now, audiences are wiser and can appreciate this fat-free experiences much more than they did back then.
Maybe Netflix hasn’t actually ruined TV for me.
It’s TV that is yet to adapt to these new ways of consumption.
What do you think? Contrary to some of the series I’ve talked about here, I’m looking forward to the next season of the entertainment media industry show. In the meantime, we will have to get past these last few filler episodes.