While curiously Googling In Treatment, I happened upon these two posters advertising the show, one for season one and one for season three. They indicate that, unlike the typical trend of airing one episode a week used by most television shows, when In Treatment originally aired, HBO aired several episodes a week. For season one, the episodes were aired on the same day of the week as their respective sessions took place, whereas for season three, two episodes a night were aired for two nights a week. Airing multiple episodes a week in this manner could have served up to three distinct purposes. First, particularly for season one, airing one episode per weeknight provides a connection to the show’s content and makes the audience feel as if they are watching the show in real time (though admittedly it’s not exact, given that some of the sessions occur in the morning or afternoon). Second, airing multiple episodes a week allows the show’s creators to more easily get away with fitting more content into a single season, which is helpful for a show in which each narrative is only explored in one fifth of the episodes. Third, the distribution pattern allows audiences to more easily recall previous sessions with a given patient and thus follow the narratives.
In our presentation on the Netflix distribution model, Lindsey and I discussed Netflix’s acceptance of the binge-watching trend in the distribution of original content, as well as the fact that the precedent for Netflix’s subscription-based revenue and subsequent ability to target niche markets was previously set by subscription channels like HBO and Showtime. In Treatment may provide a link between the two concepts. If HBO’s subscription model allows for greater experimentation and innovation than advertising, as we suggested in our presentation might be the case, then that model may be what allowed HBO to risk airing In Treatment five episodes a week and attempt to break its audience’s viewing habits–and then change the distribution pattern again for a new season.
Another factor that may have contributed to HBO’s ability to experiment with airing patterns is the variety of viewing options at the audience’s disposal. The bottom of the season one poster advertises that, if watching one episode every weeknight does not fit into their schedule, they can “catch up with back-to-back episodes every Sunday,” record episodes on demand, stream them online, or download them from iTunes. While many of these options are available for most TV shows, it is curious that HBO would specifically advertise the availability of such options, and suggests their acute awareness that either they were taking a big risk by experimenting with distribution patterns, or their audience needed a variety of viewing options regardless of the format and distribution of the show (or both).
Thus, In Treatment provides an interesting parallel to the discussion about the Netflix distribution model of releasing an entire season all at once, and contributes a valuable case study to the questions that such discussion raises: At what pace are different television shows best viewed, and how might that pace be informed by the content of the narrative itself? Is there such a thing as a best pace at which to view a particular television show, or is it entirely dependent on the individual viewer and their own choices and viewing habits? What business models best allow for distribution experimentation and risk-taking?