It’s no secret that the landscape of at-home entertainment is changing. “Binge-watching” has become a ubiquitous term in the lives of Netflix subscribers. How could it not when a season of Orange is the New Black is released in its entirety? These viewing habits have transferred onto programs broadcast on network television and premium cable. In fact, a recent study on binge-watching has shown that some viewers will deliberately not watch a show during its scheduled time so that they can watch several episodes consecutively. According to the same study, the most binge-watched program is HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones also happens to lead the Emmy pool this year, with 19 nominations. Viewers have come to expect such greatness from HBO programming. With 99 nominations this year, HBO leads its competitors for the fourteenth year in a row. Other premium cable channels similarly lead in nominations, partly due to larger production budgets allowing for higher quality writing and talent.
Also contributing to the high quality of HBO programming is the structure of a program’s typical season compared to a typical season on broadcast television. HBO’s new program True Detective had only eight episodes in the first season, while a typical broadcast network program will have approximately twenty episodes. Needless to say, it is much easier for a film actor to commit to a series with only eight episodes. With such an abbreviated shooting schedule, True Detective’s lead actors Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are not constrained to only work on the show. With a lower-commitment television program, McConaughey is able to win an Oscar and in the same year be nominated for an Emmy, both for lead actor. This is a nearly impossible achievement with the shooting schedule of broadcast network programming.
With this programming structure on premium cable channels, film actors appearing on TV no longer carry the “washed up” stigma it once did. Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey stars in Netflix’s House of Cards, while simultaneously maintaining his film career. This streaming series received 13 Emmy Nominations, contributing to a total of 31 nominations for Netflix. This doubles the nominations the online-only network received last year, and more nominations than Fox received this year (only 18).
If this is any indication for the future of television, online-only content and premium cable will continue to expand and thrive. These platforms are not only able to afford higher quality programming, they are also able to program explicit content prohibited on broadcast television – an advantage HBO certainly recognized in its early stages with Sex and the City and The Sopranos. A viewer need only watch a single episode of Game of Thrones to recognize that HBO hasn’t changed its game plan in the explicit content department.
Of course, viewers have not completely abandoned their televisions. Saturday Night Live, still following the live-stream, regularly scheduled format of classic television, received 14 Emmy nominations this year. Though some viewers (this viewer included) intentionally binge-watch, my friends and I made sure we were on our couch promptly at 9:00 every Sunday to watch the most recent episode of Girls. In short, viewing habits have changed, and they remain the same. One thing that can be said: the increased variety of media sources creates competition, and competition means higher-quality programming. This is good for the medium, good for the viewer, and good for the artist. The TV climate may be changing, but it is certainly changing for the better.
Programming Intern, NVFF