If you watch any TV this year, it’s more likely than not that you’ll be on a binge.
Collins, a British dictionary publisher, named “binge-watch” — watching a large number of TV programs from the same series in a row — its word of the year for 2015. It cited a whopping 200 percent increase in use over last year.
To be clear, binge-watching isn’t anything new. TV junkies have made a habit of watching back-to-back episodes of their favorite shows for many years. Last month, PBS kicked off the sixth and final season of “Downton Abbey” with a 40-plus episode marathon of the wildly popular English period drama.
That point aside, something has changed in the way we entertain ourselves with our screens. Not too long ago, we had “appointment TV.” On certain nights at the hour appointed by network bosses, viewers gathered ’round the set to watch the latest episode of their favorite shows.
Some of those moments became cultural milestones. In 1980, legions of “Dallas” fans asked “Who shot J.R.?” after the long-running drama’s season-ending cliffhanger. In more recent years, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams mystified fans and sparked countless workplace water-cooler conversations with the intricate plot of his show “Lost.”
Cable channels like HBO and AMC elbowed their way into the conversation with “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men.” But these award-winners still fit the old mold of “linear TV,” traditional serialized shows released one episode at a time.
What the cable channels were able to do was get us to cough up money to watch a show. We’ve long been willing to pay a few dollars for a movie, but paying to watch a TV show was foreign until HBO released a series of critically acclaimed, uncensored television shows. The network changed the model, but it didn’t break the mold.
It would take new Internet-enabled content creators to do that. Spurred by Netflix and Amazon, an increasing number of viewers are cutting the cord on cable and going online to stream or download their favorite shows. And they’re not just doing it one episode at a time. They’re going on a binge, watching a dozen or more episodes in a single weekend.
Show producers are feeding their appetite. Netflix pioneered the model in 2013 when it released all the episodes of the first season of its political drama “House of Cards” for viewers to watch in one big splurge. A glut of online-only shows streamable at any time on TV, phone or tablet has followed. We no longer have to wait for our weekly appointment to get our fix.
To be fair, linear TV is not going away anytime soon. The enduring power of competition shows such as “American Idol,” now entering its 15th and final season, attests to that. TV watchers tune in for live events and compelling episodes.
But future demographics are clear. According to a Pew Research Center study, 15 percent of American TV viewers have cut the cord and ditched paid cable TV. That same study found that young viewers aged 18 to 29 are the least likely to pay for traditional cable TV.
These cord-cutters and so-called “cord-nevers” aren’t giving up on TV. They’re just not getting it in the same way. They head online to stream or download shows on demand, often in bunches. And they watch only what they want to watch when they want to watch it, uninterrupted. I recently had to explain what a TV commercial is to my perplexed 4-year-old son. To him, having to stop watching a show for an ad was a foreign, and hugely inconvenient, concept.
What has emerged is a new model for investing in, creating and distributing entertainment, driven partly by changing viewing habits but primarily by the sheer volume of entertaining, high-quality content available.
Here’s where it gets tricky for you, dear reader. For a growing number of workers, learning is no longer appointment TV. Workers have a growing number of sources, most of them beyond the walls of your content library or the gates of your LMS, for high-quality learning content. They can browse at their convenience and use as much, or as little, as they’d like.
The question for you is whether your investments in learning content and systems are keeping pace with the new reality. Are you prepared for a learning environment that is both linear as well as open? In short, is the learning you provide binge-worthy?
Mike ProkopeakEditor in Chiefmikep@CLOmedia.com