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The Value of Traditional TV in a World of Binge Watching

January 17th, 2019   ||    by Callie Wheeler

Ah, remember when traditional TV was the only TV? Each week anticipating the next episode, tuning in Friday evening or Tuesday night to find out whether Ross and Emily would actually get married, who killed Laura Palmer, or if President Bartlett was the target of the last episode’s shooting.

With Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services at hand, those days can seem far away. Why watch traditional TV, week-to-week, when you can wait until it all comes out at once and binge the entire season? Viewers and advertisers, take note: there are at least a few reasons to give our old standby a second chance.

For Your Health

A common concern about binge watching is its effect on the viewer’s health. Some studies have primarily highlighted its negative impacts on sleep, like this one covered in Psychology Today; it found binge watching can interfere with our ability to fall asleep, while referencing other research indicating binge watching can increase loneliness and depression.

Then there are the physical concerns, from studies like this in The Independent linking excessive TV to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes in children, to another cited in Reader’s Digest that found cutting back on hours of TV every day reduced risk of heart disease and premature death.

For the Arts

But wait, there’s more! Beyond health concerns—which extend beyond binge watching to general couch potato behavior—there is another benefit to watching traditional TV: the week-to-week format. While some shows are created to be watched all at once, many series are intentionally produced with the traditional cadence in mind.

Homecoming director Sam Esmail recently shared his perspective with the Observer. Though the Amazon series was released all at once, he intentionally worked to push back against viewers’ inclination to hit “next” as soon as each episode ended. By employing long credits scenes, he asks viewers to stop and consider what is building and growing in the story.

Early on, show creators faced the prospect of binge watching as a somewhat new phenomena. Rectify creator Ray McKinnon told IndieWire it was “a little disheartening” that all the work put into a season of television could be consumed so quickly.

The week-to-week format allows viewers the space and time to contemplate episodes, to allow moments to linger, and to consider what may be ahead.

For the Advertiser

And what about advertisers? Beyond the rationale for viewers, there is also reason to invest in advertising on week-to-week programming. The traditional TV format provides advertisers an opportunity to reach viewers with consistent messaging that builds upon itself from commercial to commercial. There are great examples of this that come to mind, many of which involve a spokesperson or story.

Spokespeople such as The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, more commonly known as “the Old Spice guy,” Progressive’s Flo, and the Aflac Duck create consistency between ads. Additionally, they often incorporate storylines that build off each other or cleverly explore the same topic from various vantage points. Armed with an arsenal of these ads, brands can reach a consistent audience in an engaging way over time.

Championing the Traditional

This is good news for both advertisers and TV fans: just because binge watching is easier (and in many ways, more popular) than ever, doesn’t mean it’s the only way moving forward. There are still directors and creators intentionally structuring their programs for traditional TV formats, still those who understand it’s not healthy to sit and watch an entire show in a weekend, and still those of us who love the suspense of a cliffhanger unanswered for a week. There’s still hope for the art of television.

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