Thousands of options... zero ads.
So what is often done in the privacy of one’s own home, alone or with a loved one, that is indulgent,
very time consuming, and that may feel rather naughty?
Binge viewing! A back to back TV or film fest of a favourite series, serial or sequels. The way people
watch TV has altered dramatically in the last 10 years. Yet many commercial TV executives, and the
advertising industry that supports them, still continue as though nothing much has really changed.
I’ve written previously here, here and here about the way viewing TV is measured and how the
methods used have been inadequate for some time. This, of course, means that despite the way
people’s TV viewing behaviour is changing, a completely false picture of what is really happening
continues to be relied on by people who should know better. So many individuals complacently
think it is still business as usual, and nothing fundamental has happened, because the radical
deviations haven’t shown up in their outmoded metrics.
Ten years ago the most popular size for a TV screen in the U.K. was 25 inches or smaller, and 60%
of the country had a viewing choice of only five channels. YouTube and Facebook didn’t exist then
and if you consider mobile phones to be “smart” today, a decade ago they were decidedly dumb:
most had only small monochrome display screens. These reflections were brought about because I
happened to be on a train at school leaving time, when a small group of boys, aged around 12
years old, boarded. These were all well-off children, their school uniforms denoting that their
parents were paying a lot of money for their education and, of course, they all had smartphones.
I couldn’t resist eavesdropping on the conversation that ensued; it was all about how many
episodes of their chosen TV series they had binge viewed the previous night. Bragging is natural at
their age so this anecdotal data should be viewed with caution. But most said they had watched
two or three 50 minute episodes the previous evening, with one boy claiming that he had watched
five. Interestingly, they had all watched different series, although being boys their viewing diet was
very narrow. It consisted of various combinations of unadulterated action, violence and vampires
and, judging from the titles they had watched, these would have been accessed using Netflix, (or
possibly Amazon Instant Video), to stream these episodes to their TV sets, laptops or tablets. (Note:
no video games were played).
Regardless of what the advertising industry says about not targeting children, these young
consumers are the prime target market for advertisers like Coca Cola, McDonalds and the rest of
the fast food and fizzy pop industry. It is in this particular, and vulnerable, age group that clever
advertising can instil brand preferences that will exist for the rest of these children’s lives. As the
Russian psychologist Pavlov showed with his famous experiments with dogs, “classical
conditioning” can be acquired without the target subject doing anything. So of course this is a
primary effect much exploited in targeting advertising to such young and impressionable minds.
Yet by using subscription services like Netflix or Amazon Video these children were avoiding being
interrupted by TV commercials. Netflix’s strap line is: “Thousands of options. Zero adverts,” so this
kind of viewing behaviour will have a profound effect. Just imagine if you had managed to grow up
only experiencing TV without advertising.
You can see the paradox here – television program production has always been shaped and funded
by the needs of advertisers. In the U.S., a so-called hour long drama series is usually actually only
39 to 42 minutes long, the rest of the hour is composed of commercials and network trailers. The
U.K. regulates the proportion of advertising per hour of programing a bit stricter than America, one
episode of commercial TV drama is usually 45 to 48 minutes long. And the BBC, which doesn’t
show advertising (not yet, anyway), produces hour long drama series that are between 57 to 59
minutes for each episode.
Obviously skipping, or cutting out, the advertising that accompanies TV programmes can save a lot
of time in a life crowded with so many different leisure choices, and choosing to watch episodic
television with zero advertising is a real game changer. Pavlov’s classical conditioning may have
been highly effective for advertisers in the past but now it is working against them. Modern
children (with money to spend) are learning to associate viewing TV episodes en masse as
something to be enjoyed without any annoying interruptions from TV commercials. Binge viewing
via subscription services like Netflix is acting totally against the passive acceptance of TV advertising
on which advertisers have, for so long, normally relied. Every time these children “binge TV,” they
strengthen this association. They are also, at the same time, reinforcing the emotion of being
disassociated from the weekly wait for the next episode in the series. My guess is that soon, and
even more so when these children become adults, there’ll be a much greater rise in subscription,
advertisement-free TV. By the time these children are grown up multiple episode viewing on
demand will have become the norm.
Sometime after the train ride when I overheard those boys talking about their TV viewing, I came
across the data for the Power Point chart above. It implies that the peak phase for “binge TV”
viewing is between the ages of 25 to 34 years old, another age group highly favoured by advertisers
as these people are usually busy buying lots of products setting-up their first homes. I frequently
find it is the data one doesn’t possess that is the most interesting or useful. Unfortunately, when
Deloitte did their research to collect the data for this chart they obviously omitted to ask any 12
year old boys. Chances are that this earlier stage is actually the peak age for binge TV viewing.
Both boys and girls circa 12 years old have grown up knowing only the Internet enabled era. For
them there has never been a weekly wait for a TV episode, and it is likely that they haven’t all
watched the same series as their friends at the same time. If these children ever by chance see TV
advertisements, they must find them highly disruptive, and a really irritating waste of their precious
time, whatever they are watching. The Deloitte data does seem to imply that that binge viewing has
a generational aspect – the older you are the more likely you are to be conditioned to the weekly
wait for your favourite TV episode, and the less likely you are to binge on multiple episodes. Of
course, if you are in the older age group you are also more conditioned to associate watching TV on
a large screen from an armchair, and not on a laptop or tablet computer.
What we are witnessing here is a huge generational divide. The slow decline of the elderly
habituated to a weekly delay until the next episode of their “appointment TV on one side,” and the
fast rise of the young who demand “more like this” from YouTube on the other. The younger
generations are becoming accustomed to view what they want when they want to watch it. In this
context the meaning of the word “episode” starts to return back to its ancient Greek origins where
it just meant something additional, not something associated with a postponement of time for one
day, or week or month. Netflix appears to have understood all this, and it seems to be the only
media company which is gaining incredible growth out of its knowledge.
It’s enlightening that Netflix releases all the episodes of a TV series at once. And they encourage
binge viewing by taking advantage of people’s inertia, as the next episode starts automatically after
only a 15 second delay. Before they realise it, viewers are immersed in the following episode, and
it takes a strong mind to switch off. Quantitative data seems to confirm how addictive Netflix can
be for children and adults alike. According to the Internet Traffic Monitoring specialist, Sandvine, in
just over two years since its U.K. launch, Netflix has become the second largest driver of traffic on
fixed access networks in the U.K. and Ireland. At peak evening viewing hours Netflix video streams
occupy 17.8% of all U.K and Ireland Internet traffic, just a tad behind YouTube at 19.9%. In fact,
based on their current growth pattern, Netflix will be the leading Internet traffic source next year.
By comparison the BBC and Amazon’s Internet video streams account for less than 1% to 3% each
at peak viewing time. It would seem that Netflix currently has a winning strategy with its pricing,
range of programmes and the active encouragement of binge viewing. Even though, at present,
Amazon bundles free video viewing with its Prime delivery service, (and in the U.S. Amazon has
recently released a set-top box called Fire TV, see above) it is Netflix which is winning far more
Over the next few months we’ll see a raft of new TV products for video viewing via the Internet:
Apple may eventually release the TV product that the late Steve Jobs envisioned; Google has just
produced a third attempt at launching a TV product with Android TV; and Amazon will possibly roll
out Fire TV internationally. But in an ambiguous media world there would seem to be one certainty
- all these devices will have access to Netflix and its: “Thousands of options. Zero adverts.”
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