Last Thursday, 5.67 million viewers tuned in to watch the premiere of NBC’s Charles Manson-based event series Aquarius, starring David Duchovny. Though high-ratings and summer replacements never really go together, the network is looking to make the most of their period drama by collecting sought-after data that Netflix won’t yet give up: binge-watching. And they're doing this by releasing all episodes online.
Thankfully, since all 13 episodes of the limited series are “in the can” and ready to air, NBC is able to leverage the series (via their website and app) to provide them with some much desired numbers which they can then crunch, analyze, and potentially use to help them when scheduling shows in the future.
What they won’t do: share this data — as Vulture recently confirmed.
In the ever-evolving world of television, binge-watching is the end-all, be-all for viewers who wish to consume as much (or little) of a program as they want, when they want; however, outside of digital services such as Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu, broadcast networks generally have little information in regard to what binge-watching actually translates to — or what it can be translated to — in order to make the shows they air more successful.
No matter how successful of a show Aquarius is (or isn’t) for NBC doesn’t really matter in the short term; and ultimately, their data is not affected by how many — or few — choose to binge-watch the show, via the NBC app, NBC.com, and other on demand services. Thanks to sampling — which is what Nielsen Ratings uses, as well as election results — only a small group is needed to reveal the behavior of binge-watching to NBC. Truth be told, Aquarius is more beneficial for the network in this way than with whatever ad revenue it makes over many weeks on-air.
The curious question is what NBC will actually do with this data, ultimately. Since ad buyers are still shying away from spending big money on anything digital and untested, this move by NBC seems more like an exploratory mission than a revelation of a much larger plan. If anything is going to come from it, we as viewers won’t see it for some time. However, there is one positive: it could potentially save your favorite low-rated show(s).
Now that everyone — literally almost everyone — has digital service offerings, many shows will have to settle on having far fewer, though more dedicated viewers. So when it comes to programs like Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, or even the long-forgotten cult sci-fi show Awake, this binge-watching data could help NBC understand how to better profit from beloved shows without requiring 10+ million people to tune in each week.
Still, don’t get your hopes up that your favorite broadcast series will be dumping all of its episodes online at once. Television is still expensive, and at $75 — $100+ million per season of television, binge-watching is still something which benefits the viewer of the shows much more than the people who make them.
Aquarius airs Thursdays @9pm on NBC. You can watch the entire first season on NBC.com or the NBC mobile app.