My sister would fill up a video tape with episodes of Babylon 5 as they aired, and she’d send me each tape as it filled up. When a new tape arrived, my wife and I would watch the whole thing in one sitting. While I haven’t deliberately made time to watch any TV show since Babylon 5 ended in 1998 (not coincidentally the same year my son was born and I started my first full-time faculty job), I have caught up on a few more recent shows thanks to DVDs, and I strongly prefer experiencing them that way. I’d never heard of “House of Cards,” but thought the distribution method was interesting.
“House of Cards,” which is the first show made specifically for Netflix, dispenses with some of the traditions that are so common on network TV, like flashbacks. There is less reason to remind viewers what happened in previous episodes, the producers say, because so many viewers will have just seen it. And if they don’t remember, Google is just a click away. The show “assumes you know what’s happening all the time, whereas television has to assume that a big chunk of the audience is always just tuning in,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer.
The producer Glen Mazzara took a similar approach to AMC’s “The Walking Dead” this year. In the second half of the season, which will start in mid-February after a two-month break, “we decided to pick up the action right away — to just jump right in,” Mr. Mazzara said. Fans of the show, he said, have little tolerance for recaps, since many of them will have just watched a marathon of the first half to prepare for the second.
That the fans even have a choice in the matter is a testament to the fundamental changes under way in the television business. Digital video recorders, video-on-demand capabilities and streaming Web sites have given viewers command of what they watch and when, not unlike the way the invention of supermarkets gave food shoppers a panoply of new choices. In both cases, some consumers love to binge.