While it may not seem that extraordinary to the average person, my television show watching habits have far exceeded that of my film habits. I used to soak films into my brain several times a week, but over the last couple years, I've switched to a different track. There a number of factors worth exploring for why this has happened, but first, let's look at the data.
This chart shows my watching habits over the past four years. I’ve done my best to record every movie and TV show season I watched, but I’m sure I missed a few here and there. Still, the data good enough in the aggregate to analyze. The green line represents TV shows (quantity is actual episodes viewed, not number of seasons), and the blue line represents films viewed (across iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, MUBI, and in theaters).
While my film watching habits have remained fairly constant, my TV viewing has spiked incredibly (more than three times the amount over the course of 2010-2013). Why is that? And how the hell do I have so much time on my hands? Here are a few of my theories:
- No Longer Subscribed to Netflix DVD
- TV Shows are Finally Equaling the Quality of Film
- TV Episodes Easier to Watch in Shorter (or Super Long) Sittings
No Longer Subscribed to Netflix DVD
I ditched the DVD subscription in 2010, and have been using Netflix steaming only for my viewing habits there. While the streaming service has been spotty this past month (as in: barely watchable due to constant buffering over Comcast), it has worked wonderfully in the past, and has curated some really deep finds that I otherwise would have struggled to unearth. Not only did I get around to watching some films I’d been putting off (like Time Crimes and Donnie Darko), I also watched TV shows that weren’t always as accessible in the past (such as Twin Peaks and the amazing Buffy the Vampire Slayer). But not having the DVD subscription meant I was cut off from several new releases and being able to venture down the deep, dark shelves of film history across the world. It’s been a drag not having access to nearly every film ever made, and I suspect this has impacted my film-watching.
Since dumping Netflix DVD, though, I’ve subscribed to MUBI, a limited film curation site that runs only $35/year. It curates some refreshingly esoteric foreign flicks, shorts, and hard-to-find films (some of which I doubt would even be available on Netflix DVD). The films are available for 30 days and each day a new film is introduced (the oldest is knocked off as unavailable). It’s been great, but I find a lot of the films in rotation are the same and I typically only watch a couple every 30-day refresh period.
TV Shows are Finally Equaling the Quality of Film
This reason seems to me the most reasonable. Television shows have become amazing vehicles of entertainment and art. Sure, there were great shows in the 80s and 90s, but nothing has reached the highs of the past fifteen years. In the past four years, I’ve slinked through greats like The Wire, Deadwood, Carnivale, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Fringe, Orange is the New Black, The Shield, Sherlock, American Horror Story, and obviously several others. But even this short list highlights some of the best genre television ever produced. Each season is anywhere from 10-22 episodes in length (most average around 13), and the majority of the shows I’ve watched have adhered to an over-arching storyline per season (or across a series). And nearly every one of these shows is 40-60 minutes in length.
So perhaps my viewing habits have leaned heavily towards shows because of the episodic nature of their design. Seems obvious. But I never used to watch so many shows. So perhaps I’ve grown a new inclination towards long-form, character-building experiences.
Watching shows have also been more rewarding than watching films — oftentimes I’m watching them with the girlfriend or with friends (either at the same time or separately), and they offer on-going rich conversations and speculation. My experience with films hasn’t been as great — there are certainly times when the discussion arises, but television seems like a more appropriate reference point — at least these days.
TV Episodes Easier to Watch in Shorter (or Super Long) Sittings
This is straightforward. Never before has it been so easy to get to a season of a show, hit play for the first episode, and just marathon the fuck through the rest of the season in one or two sittings. Netflix’s studies have proven that binge watching shows is definitely a modern human behavior. And I’m fine with that. I remember burning through The Wire and Battlestar Galactica. It’s so easy when they’re readily available. Watching shows as they air, however, is an endurance in pain I’d prefer to only experience a few times a year. Alas, that isn’t the case for some really great shows currently airing (hello True Detective, Game of Thrones). Netflix also gets this, and they release their self-produced shows with every episode of a season available to watch on day one (I’m pretty sure the rate at which folks devoured House of Cards single-handedly proved their binge-watching hypothesis).
But shows also aren’t as long as films. It’s easier to sit down and watch a 40-minute Buffy episode than get your mind in the right spot to endure a 3-hour film (like Betty Blue, a French flick I watched on MUBI — after having not seen a long film like that in a while, it took a couple sittings). With an oftentimes brutal schedule during the week, watching an episode during some downtime is sometimes just easier.
I don’t have anything else to say. Thanks for reading. Keep watching great films and shows.