02/06/2013 18:12 BST | Updated 29/07/2013 06:12 BST

Cutting the Cord? The Future of TV

The fourth season of US sitcom 'Arrested Development' was launched by Netflix on Sunday morning - all 15 episodes at once, for your binge viewing pleasure.

The fourth season of US sitcom 'Arrested Development' was launched by Netflix on Sunday morning - all 15 episodes at once, for your binge viewing pleasure.

It isn't the first time Netflix has done this - in February 2013 the remade drama series 'House of Cards' was given an exclusive release online to a media furore. "Clearly, the game has changed", Forbes claimed. Amongst the proud boasts at the time, releasing all of the episodes of a series in one go was trumpeted as unique, allowing audiences to decide for themselves when and how they watch TV.

Those who want to free viewers from the tyranny of the television schedulers point to sales of DVD box sets, to the rising popularity of catch up and on demand TV, and to the growing numbers of people watching shows on tablets and other mobile devices. They point to UK success stories, like Downton Abbey and Broadchurch, which have proved popular with on demand catch up services. In future, they claim, people will be liberated to consume 'content' when and where they want.

But catching up within a few days of a programme being aired is not the same as 'bingeing' on whole series, released in one go. And much of the commentary around the release of 'House of Cards' and 'Arrested Development' has foreseen exactly that: a new type of viewing in which audiences pig out, trying to watch as many episodes as possible in a short space of time. This takes forward the trend for bingeing first seen when the box sets of dramas like '24', 'The Killing' or 'Mad Men' have been released.

But the crucial point with all of these shows is that all have all aired first according to a schedule on a 'linear' TV network. They have built an audience week by week. They have been structured in a way that allows for the discussion around the water cooler - and, these days, on social media too. That just isn't possible when bingeing on a series like 'Arrested Development'. Who knows what point in the series your friends have reached? And who will thank you if you talk about plot developments and ruin someone else's viewing pleasure? No conversation means no hype and a lesser experience.

A survey commissioned by MHP Communications from our polling partner, Populus, suggests that the claim that audiences want to consume TV in one go, when and where they want, is wrong. It misses the point that people want to watch TV together, talking about what they've seen with family, friends, colleagues - and strangers.

In fact our data revealed that four-in-five consumers (79%) would prefer to watch each episode of a series as it is broadcast. Just 13% would prefer to watch a series all in one go. People know what kind of television experience they want: a shared one.

Forbes writer Dorothy Pomerantz wrote that for 'Arrested Development' she would be "enjoying the series like an old-fashioned TV show: one a week. I want the fun to last as long as possible." But I wonder if she will have as much fun without being able to gossip about the show with her friends - all of whom presumably finished watching the entire series yesterday.

So I doubt that releasing whole series to be watched at the viewers' discretion will become the norm. The majority of consumers continue to want to watch a series or a one-off show as it is broadcast, live - or within hours or days on catch up. Television viewing may often be solitary but it is not lonely: social relationships are formed and reinforced by sharing thoughts about last nights' Britain's Got Talent or last summer's Olympics. Stopping people from talking about what they've seen means people are less likely to talk about it, reducing their connection with the programme and its content. In other words, many people like the tyranny of the schedule: don't write it off just yet.


Populus interviewed a random sample of 2038 adults aged 18+ online between 22nd and 24th March 2013. Interviews were conducted across Great Britain and the results have been weighted to be representative of all British adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rule