PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) — Netflix, Amazon and Hulu aren't bummed that the fall television season is coming: They're absolutely thrilled.
Last August, just before AMC ran the second half of the final season of Breaking Bad, viewers flocked to Netflix to binge watch the seasons that came before. Until that point, no more than 2.98 million viewers had ever tuned in to Breaking Bad to see meth-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White wreak havoc in Albuquerque, N.M. When the second half of the final season debuted Aug. 11, 5.9 million viewers tuned in — effectively doubling the show's audience after playing catch-up on Netflix. By the time the series finale aired at the end of September, 10 million viewers were along for the ride.
There were a whole lot of shows on television during the season that followed just begging for similar treatment this summer, and a whole lot of streaming video subscribers are more than happy to help.
Partnering with Harris Interactive, Netflix conducted an online survey in the U.S. in November and found that 73% of viewers consider binge watching “watching between two to six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.” Of those same viewers, 61% of the people survey said they binge watch regularly. A full 73% of those binge watchers feel pretty good about watching television that way, though most viewers consume an average of only 2.3 episodes per sitting.
Why? Well, 76% just like the fact that watching a few episodes at a time limits distraction while also distracting them from the outside world. With that kind of time to mull shows over, 79% say binge watching makes a show seem better than when it's presented in its regularly scheduled, commercial-chopped format.
While multichannel content providers are getting into the mix — another Harris survey found that 41% of Americans binge watch TV on demand through cable (34%) or satellite (9%) — a full 40% use Amazon, Hulu Plus or Netflix to binge watch their way though a series or two. That's led to an arms race for content as networks free up more shows and streaming services vie for exclusivity.
Netflix makes it incredibly clear just how much its streaming service has riding on content. Of the $6.3 billion in assets it claimed during the second quarter, nearly $1.8 billion lies in its content library. But of the company's $2.3 billion in liabilities, a whopping $1.86 billion stems from the deals for that content alone — including exclusive deals with Disney, AMC, Warner Brothers and individual shows such as Fox's New Girl. Amazon, meanwhile, hasn't disclosed the terms of many of its biggest content deals, but the acquisition of HBO programming this year -- including library content such as The Sopranos as well as shows still running on the network — is believed to have cost the company upward of $300 million.
Even the Disney, 20th Century Fox and Comcast-owned NBC Universal joint venture Hulu Plus has begun locking up exclusive content. It just made a deal with its friends at NBCUniversal that gives Hulu Plus exclusive rights to shows including the entire Real Housewives franchise and The Mindy Project. It also inked a deal giving it exclusive rights to the entire CBS library -- including current series and catalog titles such as Taxi and Everybody Loves Raymond.
So what's out there for streaming video audiences to catch up on before the 2014 fall television season begins its rollout Sept. 7? We've come up with just 10 shows that are worthy of binge watching before their latest chapter begins.
Parks and Recreation
Streaming on: Hulu Plus (Seasons 1-6), Netflix (Seasons 1-5), Amazon Prime Instant Video (Seasons 1-5)
In a television landscape where quality and nihilism are often synonymous, Parks & Rec and its town of Pawnee, Ind., are some of the the last vestiges of hope.
Nick Offerman's libertarian parks director Ron Swanson is not only friendly with Amy Poehler's left-leaning, ambitious Leslie Knope, but walked her down the aisle at her wedding. Knope's protege April Ludgate (Audrey Plaza) not only married city hall shoeshine guy and children's musician Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), but formed perhaps the most stable relationship on the show. Former Parks worker Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) had multiple startup companies explode under his stewardship, but ultimately found success in a small restaurant.
Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) entered the series as an auditor sent to gut Pawnee government to the studs, but ended up marrying Knope and supporting her through her city council election and subsequent recall. Terrible things tend to happen to just about every character on this show, but their ability to pick up, move on and learn from that adversity have been among this show's most redeeming qualities. The writing staff, as well as Parks & Rec creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, have spent six seasons whittling down their characters' archetypes and letting their interpersonal relationships — tested by a cast of Pawnee residents built seemingly out of posts straight from a community website comments field — determine the show's direction.
This season is the show's last and has moved the timeline three years into the future to show how a recently deposed Knope is handling a new set of triplets and her role as head of the Midwest Regional office of the National Parks Department. You get the sense that the writers want to leave their audience with a sense that everything is going to be OK, but this show has always made its characters suffer a bit for that payoff.