We are far into a world where viewers of television shows can watch season after season of a show. Whether through a streaming service, on DVD, on a DVR, or on-demand, fans can watch everything right in a row. Depending on the length of the series, this can go relatively quickly or stretch out a while. Because of this possibility, I just recently started a list of TV shows where I have seen every episode and most of this has happened in the last ten years.
In contrast, I had two primary options in the past: watch episodes as they aired each week or watch an occasional episode. For the first, I only really remember doing this for a few shows. The most memorable is Lost. We started watching late in Season One and did not miss a weekly episode for years. The show certainly took advantage of this with numerous cliffhangers and important episodes to start and close seasons. For the second option, I saw a number of TV shows through syndication as they worked through their cycles. For example, I am not sure I ever saw Frasier in its prime-time slot but I saw nearly every episode because of the 2+ episodes that there on every night.
The two types of watching are very different. Binge watching allows viewers to take it all in quickly. I can enable mass consumption. Feelings come and turn quickly with changing narrative arcs. The weekly or episodic watch required a certain discipline and memory or the kind of show where one could easily dip in for a few episodes and then tune out for a while. The resolution of stories takes longer.
It will be interesting to see how shows continue to navigate these options: release everything at once or a show at a time? How long can a traditional TV model of shows every week hold on? Or, will we see more hybrid approaches where episodes come out in different batches tied to story lines and times of the year?