The absence of ads means that each episode has more time for story lines and relationships — as much as 15 more minutes of story per television hour.
“We’ve been impacting how people watch and when they watch,” Sarandos said. “But ‘House of Cards’ is the first thing on Netflix that’s ever been actually crafted to be watched in multiple episodes. So there’s no catch-up. There’s no exposition. There’s no ‘previously on’ or ‘next on.’”
Fox executives first noticed the binge-viewing phenomenon with “24” as fans bought DVDs of the Kiefer Sutherland drama, with some people watching multiple episodes in a single weekend.
Netflix said the practice exploded with “Breaking Bad,” the AMC drama starring Bryan Cranston as a cancer-ridden chemistry teacher turned meth dealer. The service found that 74 percent of subscribers who began with a single episode of the first season ended up watching the entire run. The percentages were even higher when Netflix studied subsequent seasons.
Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad,” said these changing viewing habits are liberating writers from the conventional wisdom that individual TV episodes should be self-contained and stand on their own. “Breaking Bad” broke those rules and has seen its viewership grow every season, which is unusual for a serialized drama.
“I’d love to attribute that to how wonderful a show we have,” Gilligan said. “But if I’m being honest, I realize we’re riding a wave, a very new wave, that has been very beneficial to us and to other serialized shows.”
To be sure, all-you-can-eat viewing is not a new phenomenon.
Networks broadcast TV “marathons” to provide catch-up viewing and create anticipation for a new season of a returning show. The boxed set, containing a complete season’s worth of TV shows, has made for countless lost weekends.