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Cable Network Marathons: Old-School Binge Viewing

Much has been made of the binge-viewing phenomenon, driven mostly by streaming video company Netflix’s all-at-once rollout of every episode of its original series, like House of Cards.

There’s no denying that a lot of people are: A recent Netflix survey revealed that 66% of viewers regularly binge-view content from over-the-top content distributors.

But the holiday season in particular provides cable networks the chance to offer subscribers live, on-air binge-viewing opportunities through marathons of current series and classic iconic shows. AMC for example will offer every episode of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. 

Syfy, for the 19th straight year, will run a New Year’s marathon of Twilight Zone episodes.  Network executives say the classic sci-fi series draws a consistent, loyal and passionate following year after year.

Of course, cable’s version of binge-viewing a series doesn’t provide the convenience of watching anywhere, anytime, on virtually any platform like the OTT version Netflix and Hulu deliver. Instead, network executives say, marathons offer viewers a hands-free, lean-back experience that can’t be interrupted if there’s a hiccup in the Internet service.

They also allow fans of a series to enjoy the sense of watching together and discussing them via social media, further driving interest in the programming stunt. 

And for networks like AMC, the marathons provide cable viewers exclusive opportunities to catch up on recent episodes of its shows. OTT providers don’t yet have access to the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, for example, nor can OTT users see the first eight shows of the current season of The Walking Dead.

But AMC will air all five seasons of the Emmy Award-winning Breaking Bad over four days, beginning at noon each day, from Dec. 27 through Dec. 30, and each episode of its three and one-half seasons of The Walking Dead in chronological order beginning at 9 a.m. Dec. 31 and running through 5 a.m. Jan. 2.

Watching all 13 episodes of House of Cards on Netflix in one sitting on one’s iPad maybe the in-thing today, but cable’s marathon programming stunts are the originators of the binge-viewing phenomenon.