You are what you binge: The evolution of bingeworthy content

by Megan Wright

“You are what you eat.” But does the same adage apply to content? Filtered Media’s content manager and avid Netflix enthusiast, Megan Wright investigates…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, regardless of how busy you are, quality content will inevitably lead to distraction. Lots of distraction.

There are some who might call this distraction “binging”. And as any quick Google search will tell you, a binge is defined as “a period of excessive indulgence in an activity”.

bingeworthy content

Whereas this indulgence may once have been relegated to the kitchen or bar, it’s fast becoming the hallmark of a digitally-savvy, technologically-driven culture in which people are always looking for the next great thing to consume.

In fact, our society has become so good at being distracted, we’re pretty much on a permanent content binge – or so say the experts. “Entertainment is fast becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet,” writes tech reporter Raju Mudhar. It’s a phenomenon Mudhar terms “the Netflix-ication of all media” or “the Netflix effect”.

“As a growing number of companies are borrowing that successful streaming provider’s model for movie and TV show content — offering hundreds or thousands of titles on demand for a monthly subscription fee — and adapting it to other forms of media, including music, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, comics and audiobooks,” he adds.

No matter what you call it, one thing’s for certain – Netflix has hit the nail on the head when it comes to capturing attention, and keeping it, through the power of bingeworthy content.

Explore the power of content, reimagined

“Is what’s in your Netflix queue more or less exciting than what’s in your content marketing and editorial calendars?” blogger Shanna asked in a recent blog post. “If Netflix wins the battle (which, let’s be honest, come the weekend it will), then maybe you should consider the art and science behind the binge phenomenon taking hold over us all.”

Netflix, under a microscope

Before we go on, it’s useful to divulge a few stats here to illustrate just how powerful the Netflix juggernaut has become. Since the launch of its streaming service in 2007, Netflix’s member base has burgeoned from 6 million to over 93 million users situated in 190 countries across the world, according to Mediakix.

On average, those 93 million users stream some 125 million hours of content each day. Let’s leave that one to sink in for one moment.

bingeworthy content

Netflix’s member base has burgeoned from 6 million to over 93 million users situated in 190 countries across the world, according to Mediakix.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly for my fellow marketers, Netflix saves subscribers from having to watch approximately 160 hours’ worth of commercials each year. Add to that the fact that “57% of subscribers said Netflix’s original content was the reason they signed up” and it’s not hard to understand why the company has garnered such an intensely loyal following.

While these stats are pretty impressive, you’re probably wondering what this means for your content and where to start. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to crafting bingeworthy content:

Find the good idea   

Speaking at the Sydney Opera House in December 2016, Serial producer Julie Snyder pointed out that it took her and co-producer Sarah Koenig years of coming up with bad ideas before they hit upon the gold mine idea to serialise a criminal investigation.

“A good idea is like porn – you know it when you see it,” Snyder said. “Often the most energy goes into saving a bad idea.”

Launched in 2014, Serial became the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads in iTunes history. Today, some three years on, the show has had over 250 million downloads – a phenomenal number by any content measure, let alone in the world of podcasting.

What you may not know is that when Koenig and Snyder first launched the show they hoped to reach an audience of just 300,000.

Don’t be afraid to take risks

Snyder credits Serial’s overwhelming success to a few key secrets she and Koenig picked up along the way; First of all, she said, imperfection in storytelling is good. “It’s not about trying to get the cleanest version of the story, it’s about constructing a narrative that people can relate to.”

bingeworthy content

“A good idea is like porn – you know it when you see it,” Snyder said.

Secondly, Snyder brought popular television production techniques into the podcast to play up the overall narrative and entertainment value of the production. For instance, opening each episode with “last time on Serial” and closing with “next time on Serial” drew listeners in and left them wanting more.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as Snyder pointed out, “Serial highlighted that we do have patience for good journalism”. If your content is good, people will want to consume it.

Be the question   

“Nothing starts being interesting until it’s unreasonable,” said Jad Abumrad, creator and host of ever-popular podcast Radiolab, speaking at Bingefest 2016.

Abumrad went on to share the story of one of his favourite ever podcast episodes – an episode of This American Life called Running After Antelope. A slightly unconventional take on investigative journalism, the episode follows the story of Scott Carrier, a man who spent 12 years of his life trying to chase and catch an antelope – on foot.

It’s this kind of daring and unexpected storytelling that invokes a whole new response from the listener, said Abumrad. “Don’t ask the question. BE the question.”

Think beyond what’s possible  

In 2002, Stuart Kauffman introduced the ‘adjacent possible’ theory, proposing that, “at any given time – in science and technology, but perhaps also in culture and politics – only certain kinds of next steps are feasible”.

“The best way to encourage (or to have) new ideas isn’t to fetishise the ‘spark of genius’, to retreat to a mountain cabin in order to ‘be creative’… Rather, it’s to expand the range of your possible next moves – the perimeter of your potential – by exposing yourself to as much serendipity, as much argument and conversation, as many rival and related ideas as possible; to borrow, to repurpose, to recombine.”

As Abumrad so aptly explains it – think about it like this: Dogs have two colour cones, humans have three and the mantis shrimp has 12 (that’s four times as many as humans). How might you communicate this intense difference in perception back to a human through a podcast?

Here’s what Abumrad did…

 

The Netflix effect in practice

So what does this all mean? Put succinctly, we live in interesting times. Never before have content, marketing, production and entertainment been so overtly linked.

It’s about the power of narrative to capture imagination and inspire. It’s about the power of good storytelling to draw an audience in and keep them engaged. And it’s about stepping out of the box and into the question.

No one sums this up quite like public radio host and podcasting genius, Ira Glass:

“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good… But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”

“Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions… You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

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