Without a forced break between episodes, viewers aren't provided with a shared rhythm to fit their conversations around it -- and word of mouth, amplified with services like Twitter, can feel chaotic and disruptive. If they're not watching in tandem with others, viewers risk falling on either side of the spoiler alert. Removing the seemingly small function of the synchronized pause collapses the proverbial house of cards that is our shared viewing experience.
A House of Cards Built by Both
But what role does the social viewing experience fit in our own personal enjoyment of a show? Isn't the way we enjoy a show independent of how others feel about it? Not necessarily. Our brains, through what is known as our limbic resonance, may actually rely to a certain extent on the way others feel about what we watch in deciding how we feel about it.
Limbic resonance may be why we have viewing parties for premieres of shows, and why we still enjoy going to movie theaters or catching premieres of films at film festivals like Sundance. Entrepreneur and MIT Media Labs assistant professor Kevin Slavin suggests limbic resonance is the reason behind the emergence of things like the laugh track on sitcoms and the TV-show backchannel chatter on Twitter (so pronounced it's led to its own Nielsen rating).
So perhaps while Netflix's new video format bends to the way we watch, it doesn't bend to the way we watch together. At least not yet. Netflix's challenge -- and perhaps ours too -- will be to reinvent the shared viewing experience.
A Social Viewing Structure
Netflix has a lot of options. It can use the viewing data it collects, alongside its sophisticated recommendation algorithm, to surface and recommend the programs and chapters of which a viewer's trusted circle of friends is enjoying. Or it can grant access to forums for discussion based on one's completion of a chapter or program. Doing things like allowing my friend to see what chapter I'm on in a given show we're both watching allows them to easily see whether or not they should wait to talk to me about that episode they're dying to talk about.
For Netflix, the question of whether it will develop this critical new structure of shared experience to accompany its new programming -- or else allow its new paradigm to collapse -- remains to be seen. We'll have to stay tuned.