Binge watching, TV hype and the ABC’s Glitch experiment

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Does binge watching new TV shows destroy water cooler conversation and week-by-week hype? It’s a question that’s been getting more oxygen lately, as the Netflix-oriented dump-it-all-in-one-go model (recently used to premiere series such as House of Cards and Daredevil) has been compared to the success of traditional piecemeal broadcasts for marquee titles such as Game of Thrones and Mad Men

ABC TV has brainstormed an interesting compromise with the premiere of one of its pedigree 2015 titles, the six-part supernatural drama Glitch. The series stars Patrick Brammell as a cop whose night shift in the small (fictional) rural town of Yoorana takes on a George Romero-like turn when he visits the cemetery to discover six dirt-splattered bodies have risen from the dead and are in perfect health, albeit a mite confused.

The network’s broadcast will have it both ways. Glitch will premiere on the dial Thursday July 9 at 8:30pm and will air weekly at that time slot, but all six episodes will also be available for anybody to binge watch (or watch however regularly they please) on ABC iview immediately after the first one concludes.

The show has broad cross-over appeal between old and young demographics, which is why it’ll probably be a smart decision for the ABC. The median age for viewers of the network’s traditional free-to-air platforms is around 60, many of whom are, using TV and radio parlance, “rusted onto the dial.” Audiences au fait with devices such as Apple TV and Google Chromecast and are partial to gorging on back-to-back episodes tend to be the average Aunty viewer’s children or grandchildren.

Having all of Glitch available on iview will mean little for the core base, who prefer to have a cuppa or a wine and tune in at the same time every week. But it will certainly mean something to younger demographics raised on the internet and therefore more partial to a watch-it-when-I-want-it mentality. Given its unique position in the market – ABC TV doesn’t rely on selling subscriptions (like Netflix) or on building hype so that X amount of ads can be sold to X amount of eyeballs (like commercial free-to-air stations) – the network can afford to experiment.

In the context of this discussion, Glitch’s back-from-the-dead characters – who have scant but growing recollection of who they are and what happened to them when they were alive – can be symbolic stand-ins for TV show themselves. New programs invariably arrive with an air of mystery. Audiences ask: what is this about; where does it come from; who made it; what’s it supposed to mean?

Patrick Brammell’s character, Sergeant James Hayes, is aghast to discover one of the six people is his wife Kate (Emma Booth) who died two years prior. Hayes’ personal attachment puts extra weight on his decisions around what to do with them. His choices can represent the network’s: go public and tell everybody all at once (binge!) or stash them away and keep them under lock and key (broadcast weekly). In the first two episodes his decisions take both schools of thought into consideration.

Just as his choices pose issues – for the doctor who wants to learn more; for the fellow cop who suspects he’s crazy – the task of writing about them also poses issues for reviewers. Glitch’s first two episodes (not all six) are available to the media. It’s clear from this near two hour setup that production values are calibre and the story is off to a good start. Director Emma Freeman (whose credits include Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and 2010’s Hawke telemovie) presents the streets of the small town in manners reminiscent of director Matthew Saville’s framing of the working class suburb of Melbourne, Sunshine, in his 2007 police thriller Noise: darkly graded, with a moody and complex soundscape.

But the story, while promising, is impossible to diagnose so early on because of the nebulous parameters it establishes. Setting up a mystery from a storytelling perspective is easy but resolving one in a dramatically satisfying way is not. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes wasn’t a great achievement because the lady vanished; anybody can envision a story about a person whacked on the head who wakes up and claims a passenger on a train has disappeared. It’s great largely because a compelling mystery is propped up by an underlining of precise plot points that delivered a meticulous, very closed, very clear resolution – like an Agatha Christie book, it is a more a work of architecture than mood.

Glitch’s otherworldly genre makes it a different kettle of fish but the same broad thinking applies. Because it is supernaturally oriented, a “logical” explanation (are these people ghosts? Angels? Souls returned from purgatory?) might be interpreted as silly, while a more open-ended resolution could prove unsatisfying for viewers who understandably expect a degree of closure.

There is a not-unintentional feeling of uncertainty about the story (generally this goes hand-in-glove with good mysteries) and also a broader uncertainty about the shifting landscape of television, which the program’s release strategy reflects.

The production team would be well advised to edit the iview episodes so they remove packaged clips previewing the following instalment. These are very much a product of week-by-week broadcast, and to include them online in a binge-encouraging environment would be a faux pas – roughly akin to purchasing a ticket to a movie then sitting down to watch the trailer for that same movie before the opening credits roll.

It’s a reminder that cross-platform strategies require cross-platform thinking and audience expectations change according to the medium. Like the show itself, the Glitch experiment will be a curious one to watch.

19 responses to “Binge watching, TV hype and the ABC’s Glitch experiment

  1. Binge viewing is really based on word of mouth so the ABC strategy here is very odd. Perhaps the biggest problem here is that this story has already been told on SBS with the award winning French series The Returned (Les Revenants) which has a second series on SBS this year. Why would the ABC bother to commission an idea which is not only derivative but contemporaneous? What were they thinking?

    1. Agreed. Add to that mix the fact that the US also tried its own take on the same (excellent) French series, and failed miserably. I assume they’ve figured there’s still a market there for anyone oblivious to the other two series.

      1. Do we add Resurrection (US) to the list as well? But lets not get too caught up with that, since there are plenty of TV shows with the same theme, some with twists, some without.

        I just finished binge watching the first season of Hemlock Grove on Netflix. Given that the final episode had a year of 2013 stamped on it, and that it’s not likely to get screen in Australia, the viewing style worked for me (early 40s, and as my wife says, a teenage girl trapped in the body of a man, given some of the other shows I watch). Freedom of device, freedom to play, pause and resume, its awesome.

        I will agree that it does kill some of the water cooler conversation, but I think Game of Thrones did that as well, with the content only being available via Foxtel in Australia. But this is no different that reading a book. You need to acquire the book, and everyone reads at different speeds, and you’re free to try and knock it over in one weekend, or spread it out over the course of weeks.

        ABC iView and the SBS offerings are undervalued, and devalued by the commercial station offerings that can’t strike a deal for some of their more popular shows, can’t stick to a schedule and make the content available in a timely fashion, and can’t make that same content available on all devices that their apps run on.

  2. well done Aunty. My wife and I are in the 60’s demographic and we adore bingeing. Being retired we can easily indulge in the habit, and indeed instant gratification is habit forming. Especially with wonderful series like Borgen and the pommy Downton Abby.. If we can’t get it streamed via iView we will usually order the series from Amazon, refrain from watching free to air until the DVD arrives – then binge ! We have been unable to do it with SBS’s The Legacy, but that keep us slightly in the old patterns of viewer behaviour.. Don’t patronise our generation as all being dinosaurs in the technical department – we’re not.

    1. Totally agree, we share the same demographic and I binge watch, download, and do all the stuff that the younger gens seem to think belong exclusively to them. They seem to forget The age of those who invented computers and indeed who wrote Game of Thrones.

  3. The Living Dead have removed most high quality analysis of serious social issues, so I guess I’m not too upset about what’s occurring in SciFi World.

  4. Exactly Shel! I’ll give Glitch a go, because it’s Australian and i do love the ABC – but please everyone do yourselves a favour and watch Les Revenants first!

  5. No, don’t watch Les Revenants prior to Glitch if you want to maximise enjoyment of local production. Sadly and again, rather talented people let themselves slide with predictable character construction and ideological and cultural cliches, write by numbers dialogue and lazy plotting.They writers needed to decide whether they were going for the schlock zombie idea or something more mysterious and subtle. Everyone crawling gasping out of graves put me in a bad mood for the rest. I raced home every week to catch the next instalment of the French original and much family discussion pertained to it during those weeks of its engrossing SBS run. We have great talent in acting and cinematography, we have wonderful directors etc but yet…Glitch should be a lot better. For all that is good about Glitch, I will try to ignore the disappointing. Patrick Brammel’s performance was very very good indeed but I hope he doesn’t have to carry the whole show..

  6. I agree that the production values are excellent, but will not be bingeing via lowview because the video transmission values are lousy. I think they are about a quarter of the pixels of free to air. Given that ISPs such as mine (Bigpond) are now cheerfully chucking 500Gb/month at me for no more money, I’d quite like an i-view HD-Please button. But I guess that would put too much strain on the server, especially at these times when “there will be no cuts to the ABC in a government I lead”. Talk about economical with the truth.

  7. I read somewhere else that there is going to be a second season of Glitch. Does anyone else know anything about this? Completely I have already completed my binge watching!

  8. Thanks for the article. ABC Go offers some great shows and of course the ABC live feature. If you don’t live in US, you can use UnoTelly or similar tools to access it in your country.

  9. I watched the first two episodes as normal then today, suddenly binged the last four. I suspect that the producers were very proud of this product and wanted to show it off ASAP.
    I really liked “Glitch”, even if there were few answers provided. Do I want another series to supply those answers? Mmm, both yes and no. If a second series is made, then it risks becoming a drear soapy like most of the American shows which are compelled to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’, and have all the good guys live happily ever after. I much prefer the clipped BBC offerings which avoid that nonsense. So, I am left with my own imagination to guess what happened to everyone.
    The actors were all great in “Glitch” and I loved the modern Australian feel. I enjoyed being made to like, dislike and like again some of the characters. Well done all. I have not heard of that French series so really cannot comment. (Retired Jan).

  10. Just binged Glitch on iview, and loved it, really hoping for a second series.

    I found it through iview on my laptop, as I don’t watch much live to air any more. In my late 30s by the way. I’m going to rec it on genre fandom sites but I suspect that if anyone internationally who reads it is at all interested in a supernatural Australian series, they’ll have to torrent it.

    Tried to get my parents interested, they’re in their 60s, they have heard that it’s good, but they’re a little confused still as to how to get iview working with their giant flatscreen.

  11. Unbelievably good Australian series. Our whole family was transfixed from the opening credits to the end of the 6th episode. The characters are brilliant and have a depth rarely seen in Australian television or cinema and the performances from the cast capture the complexity of their situations incredibly well. I can’t believe how affected I was – I kept finding myself holding my breath!

    I haven’t seen the french series that seems to have inspired it and that sounds like it might be a good thing. I can’t believe something this good got made on an ABC budget of pocket change and paperclips.

  12. I realise that this is a zombie film, but even so I was disappointed that the final episode opened a widening science fiction angle, with shades of deus ex machina, when most of the series had dealt extremely well with the emotional depth of people re-entering their past lives, or trying to, and each player’s their attempts to resolve their personal mystery. And with an excellent ensemble cast, sensitively directed and combined with atmospheric cinematography and sound. It would have been more satisfying and maybe a cult classic, if the emotional trust and human questions had continued, while keeping the undead theme relatively constant and without a twist. Perhaps more like Let The Right One In.

  13. Resurrection , The returned ,Dead like Me… and so the list goes on, of TV series about people who’ve returned from the dead. Obviously Australian producers/directors have no ability to create an ORIGINAL series. I’ve watched only 2 episodes and already I’m being overly
    annoyed by the poor acting and dreadful script. One thing I notice in many TV series/movies is that telling the truth is always omitted in order to create some strange form of suspense. Glitch is no exception. Why NOT tell your wife (either one) the truth about what has happened??? Why NOT tell the Senior Sargent what’s going on from the start? AND why NOT have a freaking SHOWER instead of wandering around for days covered in mud? Wow,I’ve been DEAD for a hundred years. This new world is amazing! The only thing that alludes to that is commenting on a TV with a cartoon showing ??? The plot is FULL of holes and copies much of its content and ideas from others. It’s predictable and sadly, typically Australian in it’s poor attempts to gain recognition. Netflix has taken on a 2nd season (WOW – 6 episodes) There are very few Aussie productions that are even worth it,in my humble opinion.
    As for “binge” watching, that’s simply a CHOICE we have. If you WANT to watch an episode each week,you can choose to do so…if not then do what you please. At least we don’t have to put up with endless mind numbing infomercials and advertising which subliminally forces the unsuspecting populace to BUY BUY BUY a whole lot of useless crap they don’t need. The day Netflix introduces advertising is the day I cancel my subscription. The same reason i never watch commercial TV anymore.

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