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Netflix and Rethinking Ritualized Consumption of Audiovisual Content

by Ethan Tussey

by Ariane Lebot for IN MEDIA RES

This promotional clip for IFC’s Portlandia testifies to the acknowledgment of binge-watching as a widespread practice, as its comical value resides in both the characters’ extreme behavior and rightly projected spectators’ identification. Binge-watching is far from new, but it is knowing increased legitimization through discussion in academic contexts and integration to entertainment economic-models. Indeed, "networks are adapting to the generational shift from on-a-schedule to on-demand viewing”, and weekly-scheduled shows such as The Following have been promoted through invitations to DVR rather than tune-in. Furthermore, in recent cross-platform reports, Nielsen recognized the importance of time-shifted viewing and its effect on ratings.

Netflix seems to be the nodal point of many developments in entertainment consumption, through its unlimited viewing potential and algorithmic tailoring of cinematic and televisual media suggestions. The implications Netflix’s new strategies and the “binge-watching”’s outspread are not only commercial, but also social and narrative. The drive to watch several episodes in one sitting is changing expectations (and increasing annoyance with repetitions), show structures and creative control. Reed Hastings,CEO of Netflix, explains that “the point of managed dissatisfaction is waiting”, and that “the traditional entertainment ecosysten is built on [this] totally artificial concept”. Netflix is sanctioning viewership habits by inviting to view the next episode before the end credits are through, and by releasing all it’s Original Series episodes at once.

This gives viewers the impression of increased control as it breaks, or shifts even deeper, the ritualized setting of consuming audiovisual content by enabling to decide when, where, how and how much to watch as never before. Internet streaming has enabled true immediacy in consuming films and television shows, constraining binge-viewing in its most recent forms to the sole immaterial pleasure of experience by rendering void fetishised ownership of the format (DVDs, recordings…).

What does this increased sense of control and increased virtuality mean for viewership? How will the shift of content domestication from ritualized weekly viewings to “marathoning” affect viewers’ lives and understanding of the world and themselves?

Portlandia and Netflix

Sketch from IFC's Portlandia

from Portlandia (2011)
Creator: IFC
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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