A headline in The Times today catches my occasionally bloodshot eye – “The big binge: four years to watch every Netflix show.”
Watching Netflix threatens to become an infinite loop in time, the binge that never ends. In Greek legend Sisyphus was a cruel king condemned to push a large rock up a steep hill, only to find it rolling back down near the top.
Our modern equivalent is more of a self-selecting punishment: watch Netflix until it ends, although it never does (and to these calculations should be added the days you can spend trying to find something to watch on Netflix, a sort of digital jumble sale).
Although it’s not eternity yet, but four years or 32,600 hours of programmes. This calculation has been made in a report commissioned by Ofcom into the video-on-demand market in Britain.
Amazon Prime and Now TV, Sky’s streaming service, are next in the binge queue, while the BBC iPlayer gets by on 5,100 hours – not even a year’s worth of watching, as a year contains 8,760 hours – while poor old ITV can only offer 2,950 hours.
Channel 4’s on-demand service All 4 runs to 10,120 hours, including popular box sets and foreign language dramas “which have low viewing figures”, according to The Times. Watching foreign language cop shows on Walter Presents once was my favourite waste of time. Sadly, Walter doesn’t present on Virgin TV, so that distraction is now lost.
What we have here is our old friend quality versus quantity. The traditional broadcasters will never be able to match the deep pockets of Netflix and Amazon Prime. But more isn’t always better, and it’s fair to say that finding something to watch on Netflix is a lucky-dip plunge. My favourite watch so far is Four Seasons In Havana, an addictive Cuban crime drama. Russian drama The Method was good too. And the Netflix-produced British TV drama Sex Education was a delight.
Away from the highs, there have been lows too many to mention, assorted programmes started and then never finished. My watch of the moment is The Break, a French-language Belgian crime drama. Three episodes in, it’s not bad. But there is one big clunking problem: like many foreign-language dramas on Netflix, it has been dubbed. And dubbed dramas end up terrible even when they’re OK.
My half-educated guess is that it’s because Americans don’t like dubbed dramas, yet this theory is undermined by a report in Variety from as long ago as April 2014, headlined: “Why US audiences are more comfortable with subtitles than ever.”
In the quality vs quantity argument, British TV holds its own with big-interest BBC dramas such as Line of Duty and The Bodyguard. Or with quirkily engaging period dramas such as Gentleman Jack on BBC1 or the tough/tender Shane Meadows drama The Virtues on Channel 4 (quite possibly the drama of the year, but not an easy watch).
Another aspect to all this is that some programmes on Netflix have already been seen on BBC, ITV or Channel 4.
I like the occasional binge and then hate myself in the morning. TV dramas such as Line of Duty that are shown once a week and keep hold of their secrets are still a more rewarding watch.
Binge TV is the modern way, but it’s too much like staring at rubbish on your phone for hours: a bottomless pit of stuff that only ends in a headache.
Or you could always binge on a book. Ah, that feels better already.