Before “Breaking Bad” began its final eight-episode run on Aug. 11, many viewers refreshed their memories by watching last year's episodes in streaming video cram sessions.
Just nine days before the premiere, AMC released the first half of the two-part fifth season of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, giving viewers with excellent time management skills the chance to watch one episode per day before the big night.
Others could simply forgo sleep and blast through all the episodes, preferably fueled by a lot of excitement and a little caffeine and not anything that Walter White might have formulated.
The concept of “binge-viewing” is something that started with the advent of DVD box sets, but it became far easier to catch up in the era of streaming video. While even non-serialized shows inspire “Thank you sir — may I have another?” viewership on Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime, streaming enjoys its greatest application on series with complicated, ongoing plotlines.
To understand just how valuable this can be, consider the plight of “Lost” viewers during that landmark ABC series' first few seasons. Perhaps not realizing the difficulty in managing a series with many, many plot threads, ABC treated “Lost” like any other drama from 2004 to 2006, filling in the traditional dead periods of December and March with reruns. Predictably, this scrambled the brains of most viewers, and the third season gamble in which “Lost” left the air from November 2006 to February 2007 drew the ire of viewers as they forgot key plot lines over the holiday break. Eventually, ABC settled on abbreviated, 14 to 18-episode seasons for the last three years of “Lost,” allowing viewers to see a new episode every week from January through May.
Of course, “Lost” mostly existed in a pre-streaming era. It's not hard to imagine ABC making a deal for “Lost” with one of the streaming services along the lines of what AMC is doing with Netflix or, even better, the agreement CBS reached with Amazon Prime for “Under the Dome,” in which episodes migrate to Prime three days after they air on the network. People who are new to “Lost” can now watch all 120 episodes on Netflix, and will never suffer the frustration that original “Losties” experienced during the abrupt starts and stops of its initial broadcast run.
Now, who has the best deal for streaming serialized dramas today? Well, it's nobody in the United States. In Great Britain, viewers were watching the latest episode of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix one day after it screened stateside. Clearly things are breaking the right way overseas.