For most online video platforms, having content that is "binge worthy" is highly desirable - should it be for us as Christian content creators?
Over the past twelve months of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with lots of changes in our life circumstances, my wife and I have pretty well had zero social life. Yes, sympathy is welcome. What that has meant for us though is that we have spent more time in front of the TV than usual. We have particularly made use of the VOD platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and the BBC iPlayer. Our usual plan is to have a couple of series on the go, most of the time that will be a drama/action type programme (we have just finished season 1 of “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”) and a comedy (the last one we finished was “Red Oaks”). We will often sit and watch two or three episodes an evening, so we get through them over a few weeks. So, for us, that is “binge watching”.
This has also got me thinking about what makes content binge worthy AND, does this matter for us as Christian media producers? If it does, are there lessons we can learn from what the mainstream media does?
Do you have similar viewing patterns to us? Most people that I talk to also binge content. We have friends who binge shark shows, others that binge obscure Scandinavian police dramas, others who binge cooking shows etc. We all have our own nuanced content that attracts us, but it’s fair to say we can all be guilty of binging content.
The first principle is incredibly basic but is in fact a key we can miss. That is, for content to be able to be “binge watched” you have to have a quantity of content available. One off programmes or events are never going to binge watched. The old way of consuming content – linear viewing on normal TV networks - didn’t offer the opportunity for us to binge the same programmes, as the TV planners didn’t schedule like that. Now, with on demand viewing, that has changed and this shift has opened the door to binging content. In the old linear TV days, if you wanted to binge something you had to buy the DVD set. I will return to this towards the end of the article, as this is an important area that Christian media people need to think about.
The next thing to consider is that for content to be binge worthy, each programme needs to leave the viewer wanting more. If you resolve the story in a programme or you finish off a character arc, you lose the impetus to move onto the next programme. The reason we want to continue watching is a sense of unfinished business. This goes back to the classic “cliff hanger” at the end of a programme which meant you HAD to return the following week to watch. That principle has been adopted in the VOD world. But there is also another reason we binge watch and that is the way you “feel” after watching a programme. If you get a warm fuzzy feeling, you will want to watch more to repeat that feeling - that’s the attraction in binging comedy in particular. This would be something applicable in our Christian media world.
The other things that make programmes binge worthy are, a story that grabs you and keeps you hooked and/or characters that you fall in love with. Our two most recent binging experiences are great examples of each. “Jack Ryan” didn’t particularly hook me with the characters BUT, the story made me want to keep watching to see how it was going to resolve. “Red Oaks”, though, didn’t have a story line that compelled me to keep watching or forced me to watch the next episode to see what was going to happen. Instead, the characters were what kept me hooked. Seeing how their stories would play out and what they would get up to next was what kept me coming back for me, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. One or other of these things need to be present for a programme to be binge worthy.
I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer to this. I have experienced creating content that people have told me they binged (which is great to hear) but that wasn’t my intention when creating it. Instead, my hope in everything I create is that it helps people achieve transformation in their lives. Where binging can help this process is that it allows people to go deeper into a specific subject. Then, through more exposure to what God is saying through the content, they can experience increased transformation. The key we need to concentrate on is creating transformational content that engages our viewers and then provide it in such a way that people can binge if they wish.
So, one thing we can do, which opens up the potential for people to binge watch our content, is to make sure there is other content available to binge IF they wish. I said I would return to this theme as we may be missing a tremendous opportunity if we don’t “collate” content in a way that people can access more of what they like. For example, recommendations of content to watch next after a viewer has seen something they like, or lists of similar programmes, should be a part of what we do when we publish our content.
This is something that, if we plan well, we can even “add” to our weekly live streamed services. What stops you, at the end of your weekly service, pointing out other content that is “related” to what the viewer has seen? You can do that through graphics or presenters or links etc. Lots of possibilities. This does take planning AND media management, but what better way to serve our audiences (and open up the possibility for binge watching) than by giving them immediate access to other content on similar themes.
Coming back to the two principles of giving people a warm fuzzy feeling and also a sense of unfinished business, let me suggest these are things we can ponder on and pray into to see how they may be relevant in our media. I think these are worth exploring.
We may not be able to create content with gripping storylines (like “Jack Ryan”) or characters that you fall in love with (like Wheeler from “Red Oaks”) BUT we can ensure that our viewers get instant access to other content recommendations that they can engage with, should they choose, and by doing so we might start to see viewers binge watching our content in a healthy way.
What was the last programme you binged on?