(Note: I will NOT disclose anything about last night's series finale, so fans, you're safe to read on without spoilers.)
Last night was the series finale of the hit AMC show "Breaking Bad." I count myself among the millions of super-fans who fell in love with the series from the start and have been loyal ever since. Importantly though, my viewing experience with Breaking Bad distinguished itself from every other TV show I've ever watched: it was the first one where I watched every single episode on-demand and without ads.
In fact, my experiences with Breaking Bad perfectly illustrate so many of the video industry themes I write about on VideoNuze each day that I thought it would be worth sharing some of them and what I learned.
I didn't start watching Breaking Bad when it premiered in January, 2008. Rather, social media piqued my interest in Breaking Bad over 2 years later. Netflix had the first 2 seasons available on streaming. This underscores one of Netflix's key values to the TV industry: that it provides a longer window of time for "shows to come to life for the audience" as content head Ted Sarandos has said.
Further, the ability to watch from the series start was critical to me becoming a fan (HBO's president told me 2 years ago that making all episodes of its series available was the defining strategic decision for HBO GO). In other words, it's not enough to make only current season episodes available if you truly want to create new fans.
The first couple episodes of Breaking Bad sucked me in, so over a 2 week period I binge-viewed them all (Nielsen reports 88% of Netflix users binge-view). And I'll admit, many nights I stayed up just a little later to watch the first part of the next episode (Piksel reports 65% of bingers do this).
Once caught up on Netflix, I transitioned to TiVo'ing current season episodes. But rather than watch them on the TV connected to the TiVo (tough in my house due to timing/limited access), I watched them on my iPad or iPhone, using TiVo Stream. When home, I streamed directly from the DVR (LRG found that 89% of tablet video viewers actually watch in the home). For out-of-home viewing, I downloaded episodes to either my iPad or iPhone and watched them in the gym or on planes, since no Internet connection is required (downloading is enabled on the new Kindle HDX; YouTube has also announced this feature).
As my interest in Breaking Bad intensified, I found myself frequently reading episode reviews or even watching round-table discussions (like on Maria Menounos's AfterBuzz TV or AMC's own "Talking Bad").
One huge benefit of watching via TiVo was the ability to skip all of the ads, a pressing issue for the entire TV ecosystem. This is hardly a surprise, but with compelling TV like Breaking Bad, not having the tension broken with ads really enhances the experience. I contrast this with the final way I watched Breaking Bad, which was via AMCTV.com, where the most recent episodes are posted for a month (available only for certain pay-TV operators' subscribers through authenticated TV Everywhere). I tried watching a couple episodes this way, and while it's additive of AMC to offer the option, the fact that the ads aren't skippable really detracts from the experience (and note, only recent episodes are available).
After watching all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad on-demand, my most important takeaway is that viewer control is becoming critical in the overall TV experience. In fact, I think that having multiple options to watch anytime, anywhere and on multiple devices provides a bona fide halo to the show itself. I wouldn't have enjoyed Breaking Bad nearly as much (and possibly wouldn't have even gotten into it in the first place) had technology not made it so easy and enjoyable to watch. I'm not suggesting that technology will make a lousy show better, but I do believe it will help make a really good show like Breaking Bad outstanding.
Breaking Bad's creator Vince Gilligan has spoken many times about how critical Netflix was to the show's very survival. Not only is that true, but the various ways today's technology allowed fans like me to control our experience dramatically increased our loyalty, no doubt helping turn the show into one of TV's all-time hits. My Breaking Bad experience underscores how technology has become an incredibly valuable partner for the TV industry.