What John Truby Doesn't Know About TV

John Truby describes himself as "Hollywood’s premier screenwriting instructor and story consultant."

He also claims to be on "the cutting- edge of technology."

(We can discuss what sort of "story consultant" uses a cliche like "cutting- edge" to modify technology in another post. Today, I want to pick a bone with Mr. Truby about the misleading assertions he makes while advising writers about "binge viewing.")

In a series of videos for Film Courage, Mr. Truby earnestly explains (to naive screenwriters?) what binge viewing is:

"Binge viewing, of course, doesn't exist when we're talking about say a detective show."

And why only certain audiences binge watch:

"Older audiences have proven time and again that they are not interested in doing binge viewing."


If you go by the consensus definition of binge viewing, Mr. Truby is full of shit proceeding without much factual support.

For example, Tribune Media Services has recently published a white paper that shows how today's binge viewing evolved out of the "TV Marathons" from almost 30 years ago. When Nick at Nite first launched in the mid-1980s, the programmers needed a cheap source of programming for after 9PM. They turned to marathons of older shows like Route 66 and I Spy. TV marathons caught on and have only grown in popularity. There are now dozens of TV marathons scheduled in the US on every major holiday weekend. Recently, Netflix has also been responsible for a lot of marathon viewing. But Netflix is just the latest wrinkle in binge viewing: First there were TV programming stunts, then changing patterns in home video consumption and "time-shifting." In other words, in addition to scheduled TV marathons, over the last 30 years technology has made it much easier to watch TV shows on our own schedules. Today, binge viewing covers a range of delivery options and a lot of content. It isn't just for shows like Arrested Development and House of Cards. As TV critic for the LA Times, Mary McNamara, explained in a January 2012 piece, "binge television" can be defined as "n. any instance in which more than three episodes of an hourlong drama or six episodes of a half-hour comedy are consumed at one sitting. Syn.: Marathon television."

Mr. Truby is right about one thing... the research shows that 18-39 year olds are more likely than those 40 and older to binge view.

But Mr. Truby's assertions about what qualifies as "binge viewing" and who is watching in these marathon sessions are misleading at best - probably because he's simply out of touch with what's actually happening.

For example, binge viewing isn't just for young people.

According to a Harris Poll released in April of 2013, a majority (58%) of TV viewers age 40-54 reported "binge" viewing a TV series.

While this older cohort doesn't use Hulu or Netflix as much as 18-29 year olds - the older audience did report timeshifting with Tivo and other recording devices.

In fact, the 40-54 years olds in the Harris poll used timeshifting recorders MUCH more heavily in their binge viewing than younger users.

Perhaps that's why the 40-54 year old viewers who admitted to binge watching were most likely to be binge watching current TV shows.

That's right Mr. Truby, according to the Harris Poll, 40-54 year olds are actually more focussed on binge watching the latest shows (as opposed to older programming) than any other binging cohort.

This kind of real world data about the audience and binge watching might (or might not) be useful to writers.

But quite clearly, Mr. Truby's comments above (e.g., "older audiences have proven time and again that they are not interested in doing binge viewing") are bullshit not especially useful and bullshit out of step with the latest research.

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