Watching multiple episodes of a programme in a single session is characteristic of online video services. Identifying, serving and leveraging such an audience will be the rock upon which the next generation of television is founded, according to a report on so-called ‘binge viewing’. But the survey results may suggest people are more conventional in their viewing expectations than some might expect.

Convia provides real-time intelligence about online viewing. Their research suggests that most people are unsurprisingly intolerant of problems that may affect their online viewing experience. More recently they have turned their attention to the phenomenon of viewing multiple episodes of a show in a single session.

In a survey Conviva asked respondents what they do if the next episode of a series they are watching is not immediately available to them. 42% said they would start another series. 25% said they would look elsewhere for the episode. 22% said they would wait for the episode to become available. Just 4% said they might lose interest in the show and move on.

For the one in four viewers who look elsewhere for the episode, the suggestion is that it risks loyalty to a particular service provider. However, the majority of people appear more patient than proponents of binge viewing might suggest. Perhaps this is because they have been trained to be so by generations of television viewing.

Conviva then asked respondents what happens to other series they may have been watching if they start a new one. 59% said they would watch both. 25% said they would put the other series on the backburner. 11% said a new series would replace the others if they really liked it. Just 4% said the other series would be left behind and forgotten.

For the one in four viewers who might put other series on the back burner there is a real risk that they might not come back. However, once again it seems that people are used to following multiple programmes. That is how television has always been presented.

Conviva questioned people how likely they would be to return to finish a series they had stopped viewing before the end. 45% said it was very likely, 29% said likely and 21% said it was possible. Just 4% said they were unlikely and 2 very unlikely to come back to the series.

So almost three quarters of respondents were likely or very likely to return to a series having previously watched several episodes in a sitting. Once again this reflects the structure of television programming and the narrative mechanisms that encourage people to come back for more.

The survey results may have disappointed those that might have expected binge viewers to abandon a series if a season or episode is unavailable.

On the contrary, one might expect anyone that has invested time in watching multiple episodes of a series in one session to have higher loyalty to that show.

In fact, the availability of previous episodes of a series on demand, through online services or otherwise, generally reduces the risk of losing viewers through a season because they missed one or more episodes. It allows a programme franchise to build a loyal following among viewers who can invest time in a series knowing that they can watch more at their own convenience. It is the virtual proposition of the box set of discs, generally at much lower cost to the viewer.

Conviva concludes that the best way to build value in episodic programming is to establish an audience of binge-watching viewers. It says: “With volume, quality, and — above all else — clear, credible and defensible measurements, the most valuable video properties will be those who crack the binge-watching code.”

Binge viewing is all very well for the back catalogue of programmes, but high quality television takes time to make. That is why some shows can extend for several seasons over many years. Part of the pleasure of a new season may also be in its anticipation.

There may well be a model for releasing every episode of a new series or season simultaneously, as services like Netflix have explored with original programming. That may start to change the way we view television programmes. But old habits, instilled over decades of television experience, may persist.

The Conviva report is based on a survey of 750 people aged 26-34 in mid 2015. Binge Watching: The new currency of video economics is available to download from the Conviva web site.