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February 15, 2013

Binge-viewing transforms TV experience

When Thomas Toth contracted pneumonia, he became inseparable from the cool, stylish Don Draper.

Toth watched all five seasons of the AMC series “Mad Men” from his sickbed in a two-week viewing binge. He became so captivated by its fictional admen that he began sporting skinny ties and drinking Old-Fashioned cocktails.

“The nuances of the story lines are getting so complicated — they’re introducing characters in Episode 2 and that character comes back in Episode 6 — I can digest things a lot quicker and easier when I binge on them,” the 44-year-old Denver resident said.

Toth has lots of company. Services such as Netflix and Hulu, as well as digital video recorders, have transformed the TV viewing experience by enabling viewers to devour multiple episodes or even entire seasons of “The Wire” or “Downton Abbey” in marathon viewing sessions.

Now Netflix is making a massive bet that it can satisfy the addiction that it helped create. The service recently debuted its first original series, a political drama called “House of Cards” that stars actor Kevin Spacey as a ruthless, scheming House majority whip.

In a departure from television tradition, the entire season of “House of Cards” — all 13 episodes, nearly 13 hours of tense Capitol Hill drama — is available at once, with the click of a button.

Millions of Americans are binge-viewing serialized dramas and comedies, including those that can no longer be found on the network prime-time schedule. Hits like the espionage thriller “24” and cult favorites such as “Arrested Development,” which both ran on the Fox network, have found new life on Netflix, as have past seasons of FX’s “American Horror Story” and ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars.”

The phenomenon is so pervasive that a majority of Americans ages 8 to 66 say they’ve engaged in this sort of copious TV consumption, according to a study conducted by media consultant Frank N. Magid Associates Inc.

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