Is bingeing the new black?

Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online
by Dick Hobbs
Issue 92 - August 2014

Recently BBC4 has been showing the classic 1985 television drama Edge of Darkness. Troy Kennedy Martin masterfully captured the nuclear paranoia of the era, at a time when the Thatcher government was making a virtue out of secrecy.

The idea that global forces were casually trading in weapons-grade material and we would not know a thing about it until the big cloud formed above our heads seemed scarily plausible. When the only thing that stood between us and doom was a policeman played by the sadly late but definitely wonderful Bob Peck was some small crumb of comfort.

As I said, BBC4 has been repeating the drama, on Monday nights. But I have not been watching it. Instead, I am allowing it to accumulate on the good old Sky+ box and, when I have time, I will watch it at a time to suit me. That will probably not be all in one go, but maybe over two or three consecutive evenings. Yes, I acknowledge that will burn Eric Clapton’s guitar riff into my brain forever.

This is not the only show I do this to. I have the whole of the final series of How I Met Your Mother lined up ready to go but I have not yet started. The good news is that this one cannot really be spoiled: it is reasonable to guess that it ends with him meeting their mother.

Does anyone else do this? Stockpile series that you then watch in a burst? What television pundits call binge viewing?

I ask because David Grossman, technology editor of BBC Newsnight, posted an interesting and thought-provoking article online recently. In it, he argues that binge viewing can make television drama better.

He references House of Cards. The original was a four-part adaptation, made in 1990, of the Michael Dobbs novel. Each hour long episode was shown on consecutive Sunday nights.

Remember that 24 years ago VHS recorders were in common use, but the vast majority of people watched programmes as they were broadcast. So an intelligent drama had to attract its audience at the moment the first transmission started and get them involved in the plot.

No amount of enthusiasm from friends and critics could get over this fact. You could be told by all and sundry how wonderful it was, but if you started watching episode two you would have no idea who these people were and what was going on. So you would switch off again, wondering what all the fuss was about. The only thing that drama writers and producers could do would be to make each episode more self-contained. You end up with a series of short stories rather than a single narrative arc. Nothing like as satisfactory. The aim is for the lowest but one common denominator: a show can be a hit if it is marginally less bad than the other offerings in its timeslot.

Or you do as all too many dramas do today: start with what seems like 10 minutes of recap. That is dull and an insult to the intelligence of the attentive viewer. The Tunnel (another series I saved until I could concentrate on it) was particularly awful for recaps, but at least with Sky+ you can spool through at 30 times real speed.

Contrast, though, the 1990 House of Cards with the 2013 American remake. This was not made for a broadcaster, it was made for Netflix. And, crucially, all 13 episodes were released at the same instant. Viewers could, and did, download and watch it in one go, often literally so.

I thought that would not happen, but I am delighted that it did because it is very good news for drama. It means you can use each episode to tell its part of the story. No time wasted on recaps; no diversions into sub-plots just so you have something that can be wrapped up at the end of the hour.

It puts the power back into the hands of the writer. In particular, there is much less need for interference from networks who are more worried about how a show will play in its timeslot, and what happens around junctions and commercial breaks to retain the audience.

Indeed, if we think of drama as an on-demand genre rather than broadcast, we take away the constraints of making each episode an hour long (which might mean 42 or 48 minutes), with tension points around breaks. If you get rid of the hour-long block schedule then, when you need 70 minutes to tell that part of the story, go for it. 24 could actually run for 24 hours.

I still worry about how we will discover new content if we do not have trusted channels to tell us what we might like. But if it means we get more intelligent, rich, engaging drama then I am definitely up for it.

David Grossman started his article “I used to think that TV was in a slow death spiral. Now I think its best days are yet to come.” That would be good.

Tags: iss092 | Binge viewing | dick hobbs | Dick Hobbs.
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Related Shows
  • Training for the future with ITTP: BVE Day 2

    Training for the future with ITTP: BVE Day 2

Sony HDC-4800 Review
Andy McKenzie First announced at NAB 2016, the Sony HDC-4800 is a studio camera system capable of shooting 4K/UHD at up to 8x or full HD at up to 16x. With a price point upwards of £250,000 it is a very high-end product with a wide feature set. In Sony's own words, "This is the future of live production, designed to satisfy the storytelling aspect of modern sports production.” Deliveries began in mid 2017 and, after careful preliminary evaluation, we invested in several systems for our hire fleet ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Tags: iss134 | review | hdc-4800 | sony | finepoint | Andy McKenzie
Contributing Author Andy McKenzie Click to read or download PDF
Accelerated Workflows with eGPU
Mike Griggs From the UK’s National Trust to magazine publishers to manufacturers, digital content creator Mike Griggs has a wide and varied portfolio of clients for whom he creates 3D art, motion graphics and multimedia exhibits. A typical day might involve sampling birdsong near Virginia Woolf’s country estate or creating 3D animations for VR. To keep on top of these demands, Griggs wanted to take the full power of the GPU computing revolution on the road.
Tags: iss134 | sonnet | egpu | amd | post production | editing | Mike Griggs
Contributing Author Mike Griggs Click to read or download PDF
The brave new world of software based production
Boromy Ung In today’s rapidly evolving broadcast industry, the only constant media organizations can truly count on is change — and the need to adapt as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible. One of the biggest agents of change is the IP revolution, driving broadcasters to migrate their operations to all-software solutions running on commodity, IT-based technologies.
Tags: iss134 | chyronhego | graphics | sports | ott | Boromy Ung
Contributing Author Boromy Ung Click to read or download PDF
What content providers need to know about OTT
Hiren Hindocha As OTT (Over-The-Top) technology has gotten more mature and established robust standards over the years, the concept of OTT monitoring is gaining popularity. With customer expectations soaring, it’s vital for OTT providers to deliver superior quality content. To deliver Quality of Experience (QoE) on par with linear TV broadcast, the entire system, starting from ingest to multi-bitrate encoding to delivery to CDN must be monitored continuously.
Tags: iss134 | ott monitoring | qos | logging | compliance | dash | atsc | cloud | Hiren Hindocha
Contributing Author Hiren Hindocha Click to read or download PDF
State of the Nation - November 2018
Dick Hobbs - new There is an interesting seminar called Size Matters at the KitPlus Show – organised by the publishers of this fine magazine – at MediaCityUK in Salford on 6 November. It’s a talk by cinematographer Alistair Chapman on the way that camera technology is changing, and in particular the size of the electronic device which creates the image is growing.
Tags: iss134 | cmos | 35mm | AJA | Arri | Blackmagic | Canon | Datavideo | GoPro | Grass Valley | Hitachi | Ikegami | JVC | Kinefinity | Nikon | Panasonic | Red | Sony | jpeg2000 | Dick Hobbs - new
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs - new Click to read or download PDF