FRAMING THE STUDY

Background

In early 2011, Netflix, a service that up until this point had been a mediator between the public and streaming video content, released an entire original online-only series called House of Cards that changed the landscape of broadcast television. With overwhelming and surprising success, Netflix disrupted the episodic television model, providing its customers with an experience unparalleled by broadcast television’s commercials and mid-season breaks. Netflix has since been the proprietor of dozens of highly acclaimed series including Orange is the New Black, Hemlock Grove, and most recently, an adaptation of Marvel’s Daredevil. From 2013 to 2014, Netflix’s productions won eleven Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe Award combined, with over twice as many nominations.

Questions

With Netflix entering the market with its original programming, it is becoming increasingly important for networks and show-runners alike to find an answer to the following questions: which broadcast model (traditional or Netflix) enables audiences to remain consistently engaged to a show throughout the season and in the off season? Are there other factors at play which keep fans interested all year long?

This study will examine the patterns of audience engagement, measured by user revision behavior on Wikipedia, under Netflix’s new model of distributing content in comparison with the traditional method of releasing episodes sequentially over time. With regards to Netflix shows in particular, this study aims to find any evidence of “binge watching” behavior commonly associated with Netflix series in popular culture where many episodes or entire seasons are consumed in a short amount of time. Based on gathered data from Wikipedia, this study will also determine whether there are existing correlations between longterm engagement and factors such as season structure, genre, subject matter, television network, audience demographic, and whether the series was based on a book or other media.

Hypothesis

The working hypothesis predicts a spike in revision activity within the first few days of a new season release of a Netflix series, confirming the popular notion that Netflix shows are commonly “binge watched.” Page edits will likely decrease to minimal activity, with smaller upticks occurring when news, events, interviews, and announcements are released pertaining to the show. Shows that follow the traditional broadcast model are predicted to experience oscillating activity periods, with the highs occurring during or right after the airing of a new episode, and more obvious lulls of activity in between episodes and in the off season.

Data

This study will utilize revision history data from Wikipedia pages dedicated to specific seasons or episode lists of ten out of the twelve Primetime Emmy Award nominees for Best Comedy and Best Drama series in 2014. The selected sample of Emmy nominees were chosen based on their representation of diverse subject matter, networks, and distribution model. Additionally, their critical acclaim and mass appeal help garner larger and more active fan bases. Two nominees, Silicon Valley and True Detective were omitted from the study due to a lack of sufficient season-specific Wikipedia information. The data sample will contain the number of revisions per series throughout the entire 2013-2014 season and the number of revisions in the off season. Information about users with the most edits in that timeframe will also be collected for each series. See below for the list of 2014 Emmy nominees as well as seasonal and off-season dates.

Primetime Emmy Award Nominees 2014

Data Collection Method

Data for this study will be gathered from Wikipedia pages for specific seasons or episode lists associated with the selected shows using the Wikipedia API. For series that are lacking a season-specific Wikipedia page, data will be collected from a Wikipedia page containing a list of episodes. See below for a list of links to Wikipedia pages from which information will be pulled for each series.

Modern Family: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Family_(season_5)
Big Bang Theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Bang_Theory_(season_7)
Louie: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louie_(season_4)
OITNB: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Orange_Is_the_New_Black_episodes
Veep: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Veep_episodes

Breaking Bad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_Bad_(season_5)
Downton Abbey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Downton_Abbey_episodes
Game of Thrones: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_of_Thrones_(season_4)
House of Cards: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Cards_(season_2)
Mad Men: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_Men_(season_6)

Each show’s data source file will be edited to contain revision history only within the dates established in the table titled “Primetime Emmy Award Nominees 2014” above. For example, the dataset for Modern Family will span from September 25, 2013 through September 23, 2014, which is the last day of the show’s off season. For series without a season-specific Wikipedia page, this edit will ensure that the study incorporates only revisions that were made in the duration of the established season and off season.

RESULTS

Number of Edits by Day

Modern Family (ABC)

Season Dates: September 25, 2013 – May 21, 2014
Off Season: May 22, 2014 – September 23, 2014
Highest Peak: May 15, 2014 – the day after “The Wedding (Part 1)”

Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Season Dates: September 26, 2013 – May 15, 2014
Off Season: May 16, 2014 – September 21, 2014
Highest Peak: October 4, 2013 – the day after “The Scavenger Vortex”

Louie (FX)

Season Dates: May 4, 2014 – June 16, 2014
Off Season: June 17, 2014 – April 8, 2015
Highest Peak: June 17, 2014 – day after 2-part season finale

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Season Date: July 11, 2013
Off-Season: July 12, 2013 – June 5, 2014
Highest Peak: July 13, 2013 – two days after release

Veep (HBO)

Season Dates: April 6, 2014 – June 8, 2014
Off-Season: June 9, 2014 – April 11, 2015
Highest Peak: May 6, 2014 – two days after “Fishing”

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Season Dates Part 1: July 15, 2012 – September 2, 2012
Off Season: September 3, 2012 – August 10, 2013
Season Dates Part 2: August 11, 2013 – September 29, 2013
Data gathered until: December 29, 2013
Highest Peak: September 30, 2013 – the day after season finale “Felina”

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Season Dates: September 22, 2013 – November 10, 2013
Off Season: November 11, 2013 – December 24, 2013
Christmas Special: December 25, 2013
Off Season: December 26, 2013 – September 20, 2014
Highest Peak: March 25, 2014

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Season Dates: April 6, 2014 – June 15, 2014
Off Season: June 16, 2014 – April 11, 2015
Highest Peak: April 7, 2014 – the day after season premier, and September 17, 2014 – Dothraki Language Course

House of Cards (Netflix)

Season Date: February 14, 2014
Off Season: February 15, 2014 – February 26, 2015
Highest Peak: February 16, 2014 – two days after season premier, and July 21, 2014 – “Meet Frank Underwood” Campaign

Mad Men (AMC)

Season Dates: April 7, 2013 – June 23, 2013
Off Season: June 24, 2013 – April 12, 2014
Highest Peak: June 24, 2013 – the day after season finale

Table 1: Overall Engagement During and in Off Season
Table 2: Engagement in the Off Season



*Active Days are defined by days in which 1 or more edit was made to the page

Conclusions

Netflix vs. Non-Netflix

Chart 1.1: Big Bang Theory
Chart 1.2: House of Cards

The study found that user revision patterns differ based on the television broadcast model. The charts above detail revision history by day for Big Bang Theory, for which the episodes were released sequentially over time, and House of Cards, a Netflix original series whose episodes were released all at once.

Big Bang Theory saw its highest peak in revisions on October 4, 2013, the day after a fan favorite episode, “The Scavenger Vortex,” was aired. There is an obvious pattern of revision behavior which indicates that fans are most active during the season, particularly directly after episodes air. In the off season, edits to the Big Bang Theory season-specific page were scarce and irregular. The top contributor to the Big Bang Theory season page was most active earlier in the season, but maintained a more-or-less regular schedule of updates, even into the off season (see Chart 2.1).

Chart 2.1: Big Bang Theory Top User Revisions Over Time

For House of Cards, revision history was pulled from February 14, 2014 when the season premiered through February 26, 2015, the day before the next season premier. The Wikipedia page received the biggest spike in edits in the several weeks following the show’s season premier. The number of revisions made to the page began to taper off after the initial period, and the page saw minimal edits in the months leading up to the next season. The surge of 26 revisions made to the House of Cards season page on July 21, 2014 coincided with the last days of a nation-wide “Meet Frank Underwood” campaign and contest. The top contributor to the House of Cards page held an active presence for over 2 months proceeding the season premier in February, with the most revisions occurring in the first 15 days. After the month of February, the contributor averaged over 3 revisions per month until the next season premier of House of Cards (see Chart 2.2).

Chart 2.2: House of Cards Top User Revisions Over Time

Overall, based on data in Tables 1 and 2, shows with episodes are released sequentially over time garner more user engagement all year long than shows with episodes are released all at once. However, there are particular shows under the traditional broadcast model that are more successful than others at maintaining fan interest during the season and in the off season.

Season Structure

When analyzing user revision activity during the broadcast season and during the off season, a pattern is present suggesting that the more drawn-out a show’s season is, the more engaged the users are. Table 1 details the top shows with the most active days out of total days in the season and off season.

At the top of this list is Big Bang Theory, which was on the air for over 7 months out of a 12-month time span, giving users little time to step away from the show’s Wikipedia page before another season started again. Breaking Bad was second on the list of shows with the most active days in proportion to total days. While Breaking Bad was only on the air for a total of approximately 3 months, there was an 11-month mid-season break which split the show’s last season into two separate parts, stretching the total length of the season to 532 days. Modern Family, third on the list in Table 4, shares Big Bang Theory‘s schedule and recipe for consistent user activity, with a long season and a short off season. The fourth show Downton Abbey, which experienced a 36% activity rate, released a Christmas Special after the season concluded, but was on the air for fewer days than Big Bang Theory, Breaking Bad, and Modern Family.

Number of Revisions by Day
Big Bang Theory
Breaking Bad
Modern Family
Downton Abbey

The show with the shortest run dates aside from the Netflix shows, for which episodes were released in one day, was Louie, with a total of 44 days on the air. Louie also lacked an active user base on Wikipedia, and only 15% of the 339 days in its season and off season experienced revisions.

Louie

Overall, shows with the longest seasons, whether they are on the air or utilize the strategy of  mid-season breaks and specials, garnered the most user revisions during the season and off season.

Genre

According to Table 2, Breaking Bad followed by Big Bang Theory, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black are the forerunners with the most active days (defined by days in which one or more edit was made to the page) in the off season, when new episodes are not aired. Orange is the New Black, which originally fell under the comedy genre at the Primetime Emmy Awards in 2014 has since been re-categorized as a drama, essentially making all but one of the top five shows with the most user activity in the off season dramas.

Table 1, which ranks shows in the order of audiences that are most engaged throughout both the season and off season, features a different “Top 5” list consisting of: Big Bang Theory, Breaking Bad, Modern Family, Downton Abbey, and Game of Thrones. Even according to Table 1’s rankings, dramas still outnumber comedies.

The pattern suggests that fans of drama series tend to remain active on Wikipedia even after the season has concluded, while only the most viral and popular comedy series can break that barrier. While there is a correlation between user activity during the off season and genre, there is no clear pattern to suggest that shows based on other media garner more engagement than others. Additionally, there is insufficient data to determine whether subject matter affects long term user engagement. See Table 3 for a breakdown of each show’s genre, subject matter, and whether it was based on other media.

Table 3

Limitations

Originally, the study utilized data from each show’s main Wikipedia page, which were not season or episode-specific. Upon discovery that each show contains a season-specific page, data from these new-found Wikipedia pages were used in the study instead as a way to include revisions that most closely coincided with the actual season. This change proved to be beneficial to the study, as there was more revision activity on the season pages than on the shows’ generic Wikipedia page.

In spite of the discovery of season-specific Wikipedia pages, a limitation with the structure of this study was the varying lengths of seasons and off season dates, which made it difficult to directly compare total number of edits. A solution to this issue was to compare days in which there was activity against the total number of days in the season. However, this method was also limited because it did not differentiate between a day in which only one edit was made versus a day in which many edit was made.

Using Wikipedia data to answer the question of how to keep fans engaged in the world of their favorite television shows all year long – even in the off season – can only provide a fragment of the full picture. While Wikipedia is a highly trafficked platform, editing Wikipedia pages is still a “niche” activity, in which many die-hard fans of popular media do not partake. There are other, more common ways of engaging with a television show during the season and in the off season, including social media, forums, and more. In order to draw conclusions about fan engagement as a whole, more data from other platforms would be necessary.

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