What is in a water cooler moment? Why binge watching is not always right.

By Rupert Burnham | April 3, 2019

The relentless march of the all-conquering and increasingly powerful Netflix and their ilk was meant to sound the death knell of traditional broadcasting, however, the report of its death may have been greatly exaggerated.


Streaming platforms like Netflix supposedly have clear advantages for content creators and consumers alike over traditional broadcasters. Audiences are able to consume shows whenever they want, and a full run in one sitting if they so desire. Meanwhile, the show’s creators are no longer tied to a five-act structure that has to accommodate advertisement breaks.

Compare this to traditional broadcasting. There’s a week’s wait (at least) between episodes of shows that inevitably have shorter seasons. Creators of shows meanwhile have to contend with commercial ad breaks interrupting their show’s narrative, not forgetting that these ads are probably financing the shows to some degree.


So, streaming platforms have liberated content for consumers and creators alike, or have they missed a trick? Has this increased flexibility in scheduling for platforms and consumers alike sacrificed something of the traditional communal nature of television?

When all of the episodes of a show are released at the same time, people will watch or binge at their own pace rather than on a set schedule. This manner of content consumption negates any possible “watercooler moments” — that moment when the latest developments are discussed amongst fellow fans who have seen them at the same as you, the day after broadcast.

Two of 2018’s popular series were Bodyguard and Blue Planet II (2017/2018), both funded by and presented by the BBC in a serialised, weekly format. Though being produced and presented by the BBC, neither show had to accommodate ad breaks. Both were wildly popular, Blue Planet II when it premiered on October 29, 2017, pulled in a whopping 14.1 million viewers, whereas Bodyguard was the ratings hit of the year. Both were also notable for the weekly buzz they generated, Blue Planet II for its jaw droppingly beautiful shots and camera work, Bodyguard for its nail biting plot twists and turns. Two interesting things of note. Blue Planet II was also BBC iPlayer’s most popular programme of 2017, with 4.2 million requests for the first episode, while the streaming rights to Bodyguard were acquired by Netflix.



Unique downloads observed globally for Bodyguard while being aired on the BBC

But why should the weekly format create such a buzz? Perhaps it’s not the release schedule alone though. Maybe all you really need to get people talking is exceptionally good content.

There’s undeniably power in serialisation though. Arguably this is something that Netflix and other streaming platforms should consider — that there may still be value in staggering the release of episodes. This approach appears more likely to create those “water cooler moments” that an audience will watch and discuss simultaneously. These in turn can ignite broader discussions on some of the themes and key issues raised. Blue Planet II for example kick started a nationwide conversation about the role of plastic in our lives and has had a tangible effect on the nation’s usage of plastic.


So it appears that there is value to be had in staggering the release of good content — be sure to tune in next week.


Tags: actors bbc blue planet ii bodyguard netflix streaming tv