Many people have stories about their relationships to television when they were growing up. Some warmly remember how their families gathered around a favorite weekly TV show for dinner, while others recall the regimented half-hour their mothers gave them each day. For some it was a reward after a long day; for others, an escape from the anxiety of hard days to come. The small box that grew bigger every year, a bringer of very real news and provider of fantasy all in one. Binge watching, streaming, offline show content—none of these really entered into the traditional TV formula in the decades that followed the television’s creation.
Traditional TV has been dead for years, and now cable consumption, as you’ve likely heard, is diminishing.
Today, the field for television content has dramatically changed. Ads grow in their domination of air time while increasingly more users are “cutting the cord” in favor of specialized online services. Meanwhile, online streaming platforms continue to see strong growth with Netflix leading the field. As a result, people are becoming accustomed to watching their favorite shows in multi-episode sprints and demanding seasons to be released in their entirety from the start. Binge watching, which was once only possible through infrequent “marathons” has now become a norm that Netflix has begun to research and work into its own formula. Television is moving online, and in a space with more content, fewer interruptions, and greater variety, viewers seem happy about it.
But you know all that, most likely because if you’re not a Netflix subscriber, you know someone who is. You’ve heard them talk about the weekends they’ve lost to shows such as Black Mirror, Narcos, even Mad Men (for the third time). And one night before bed, it hit you: people are willingly devoting hours to this content because they love it. And maybe if they loved your brand story that much, they would do the same for you.
Here’s the problem: more likely than not, you’re among the 83 percent of marketers who would love to create more video content, if only you had the time and resources to do so. Even if you had it, you wouldn’t know where to start. There’s no way you can make readers actually binge on your brand.
Or so you assume.
There are clearly a few differences that prevent brands from treating themselves like Netflix, not the least of which being that such streaming services offer video content as their product rather than promotional material—meaning they can devote considerably more time, effort, and budget to its creation. But there are still a number of ways in which marketers can encourage binge-viewing behavior within their own communities, without much change to their existing content engines.
The most fundamental place to begin the pursuit of bingeingess has to happen at the content level. If your video content doesn’t lend itself to continuous viewing, then there’s no combination of video presentation or infrastructure that’s going to be able to keep your audience watching. There are two primary forms that at the content level encourage this kind of viewing behavior.
Episodic video content typically involves recurring characters, themes, visual style, and plot that grow which each subsequent episode. The advantage of this form is that it most closely mimics television-style content and—if engaging enough—has the highest potential to keep people watching one after the other. However, this form does make it a bit more difficult to onboard people halfway through, presenting some challenges when it comes to promoting your content with each release (though this difficulty is somewhat reduced if with “full season” releasing models.)
Pepsi continues to produce one of the strongest examples of this with Uncle Drew, which cast Cavaliers player Kyrie Irving as an old man with incredible basketball chops. To date, the series is pushing out its fourth episode, in addition to loads of behind the scenes and extra content which has netted the Pepsi brand over a hundred million views across the current 13 videos combined. A fun and funny story with engaging characters that encourages people to keep coming back for more.
Typically used for live content or interview style pieces, series content keeps much of the thematic consistency of episodic content while stripping away the continuing plots and recurring characters. This content tends to be much easier to produce, since each individual video doesn’t impact other videos in the series. This can reduce production costs, allow for more concurrent productions, and greatly widens the pool of potential video ideas for content creators to choose from. However, series don’t have the same guardrails built in that episodic content does, making binge watching a little bit more self-guided and less evident for the viewer than with episodic content. For great examples of how this looks on both small and large scale, music brands like Musicbed and KEXP Radio provide awesome Youtube hubs to see what well curated and grown series can look like through their series of artist “session” videos.
But once you have content in hand, what good does your audience binging do for your brand?
The first step to measuring binge as a metric requires your brand to make some decisions in video content hosting.
The least cost intensive option is to use playlists, recommended video spreads, and titling on public video hosting platforms to guide users from one piece of content to the next. As with all marketing, every action your user has to make will cause some friction that may cause them to leave your video flow, so putting the work in on the front end to make it easy for users to start-and-leave your content gives you the best chance for a binge viewing session. Episodic content should always have the first episode of any series at one click away (end of video recommendations are a great space for this) for viewers who discover your content halfway through, while series content should make every effort to make sure that autoplaying content continues to meet your audieince’s tastes and doesn’t repeat content—segmenting thematically can really help with this. (If your brands content were music, could your separate it out by genre?)
With this structure, binge viewing is largely measured by looking at the difference of views between your video content, number of average videos watched per visitor, and average time watching per user. The lower the difference in views between each video, the closer your average view time is to the average length of your content, and the higher the average number videos watched per user, the better your brand is doing at binging. With this data in hand, you can then answer three questions: Is your audience made up of bingers? Is your content bingable? Are your bingers more likely to click off of a video CTA or to your website? Not every brand appeals to binge-prone viewers, so understanding how your content relates to your audience’s viewing habits can help you make informed decisions about your video marketing strategy.
The more cost-intensive-yet-effective method of hosting this binge content is to create a specialized video hub on your own website. Red Bull has done this across many of its audience segments, and it continues to provide a powerful mix of episodic and series content that grabs headlines and bring viewers back for more. With the ability to better track individual viewer behavior from your webpage’s analytics, video content on your own website offers you the chance to both more directly track binge watchers (perhaps defined as a visitor watching three or more videos in one session) and then segment out their behavior specifically. Are your binge watchers more likely to respond to certain types of CTA, make a purchase, request additional information, or convert in a different way after watching your content? Do they return to your website more often or less often than other visitors? Do they have the same lifetime value as the rest of your audience? (A critical question given the amount of content you’ll need to be creating to support this viewing behavior.)
Overall, binge viewing and measurement can help your brand engage with viewers in a way they are becoming increasingly accustomed to, while also giving you a powerful outlet to develop a better understand how people are reacting with your brand’s ongoing themes and stories. This isn’t an approach that works for every brand (sorry B2Bers, this appears to be a primarily B2C tactic, at least for now) but for the brands who can afford the upfront costs, build an intentional infrastructure, and make clear goals for this highly engaged segment there are clear wins to be had.
Who knows, maybe one day we’ll even look back on video marketing and brand storytelling with the same nostalgia that many of us hold for the television of our youth. This is a story that only time can tell. In the meantime, your brand likely has a lot to share that can help audiences pass the time until we get there.