How Netflix Can Help Loneliness - In More Ways Than We Think

My wife Gen and I spent this summer indoors again, watching exciting new TV.  Big Brother, Louie, The Newsroom, and Breaking Bad filled our nights.  But our Breaking Bad was very different than everyone else’s Breaking Bad.

Gen and I had always talked about watching Breaking Bad, but had not previously pulled the trigger. At the urging of our friends, Gen and I fired up the Netflix Watch Instantly account on our TiVo, or as I call it, “the TV Time Machine”, and traveled back to 2008 to start Breaking Bad from the beginning.

Going back and watching old television shows isn’t a new phenomenon.  It started with the TV-on-DVD boom of a few years ago.  Today, there are multiple ways to time travel right through our television screen.  Thanks to Time Warner Cable On-Demand, Gen and I spent last summer devouring the first seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones and Showtime’s Homeland. We’re not the only ones.  At least half of our friends have gone back in time and watched at least one series in this way.  Now, the upcoming fall TV shows not only have to compete with each other, but also with an always available, on-demand library of television’s greatest programming. As a sign of the times, the fifth season premiere of Breaking Bad scored the highest ratings of the series to-date, an unheard of fact for a serialized drama.

But this new way of watching old TV is far from perfect. I’ve also been time traveling back to 2004 to watch Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica (or, as we say in nerd-speak, BSG).  I’m having a problem watching BSG. Not a technical problem, but a social one. 

To me, television has always been, and will always be, a social medium.  The only thing I enjoyed more than watching HBO’s The Newsroom was complaining about it on Facebook the next day.  After each episode of FX’s Louie, I’d hit the email to see what my other friends thought, then log on to hitfix.com to read Alan Sepinwall’s review. On Netflix Streaming, my wife is my lone Breaking Bad buddy.  While most of our friends are watching season five of Breaking Bad on AMC right now, Gen and I safely chat about each episode of season two in our time-travel cocoon, speculating where the show is going/has-already-gone.  Sometimes, we connect by just looking at each other after an episode in stunned silence.  There’s nothing to say, but it’s great to have someone to say nothing to.

But because my wife Gen is not onboard for the BSG ride, I’m watching the show in a vacuum.  I can’t discuss the show with my friends who have already seen the series. They always give me that know-it-all nod and say, “Keep watching.”  That’s not social, that’s cruelty to time travelers.  Lately, I’ve taken to finishing a BSG episode by ranting to my buddy on the couch, our dog Pete.  He just looks at me with those eyes that say, “I think you would enjoy this show more if you watched it while rubbing my tummy.” Like the few, sad episodes of Doctor Who when the Doctor is without a companion, time-travel can be very lonely.

So what’s the Rich Fix?

Netflix is great at recommending shows and movies I might like, so why can’t they recommend people I might like to watch those programs with?  A Match.com for television.  tvHarmony?

The mechanics of tvHarmony would be simple.  Since Netflix knows the next Battlestar Galatica episode in my queue, they could suggest other users who have that same BSG episode ready to go.  Then it could rank those people by similarities in our overall viewing history and suggest a few potential matches. 

As Netflix users, we could write dating-style profiles for people seeking a platonic TV buddy.  I could screen out prospects by their profiles and how they rated other shows.  I’d chat with the rest after we’ve each watched the next episode, and see whom I feel TV-chatter chemistry with.  Who makes good points and who just wastes my time by stating the obvious?  With the people I enjoy connecting with, we’d do the same routine for the next episode, and if that goes well, finish out season two together.  Hopefully, we end up with a small group of opinionated, like-minded TV watchers who can align their Netflix streams and watch the rest of the series as our own time-shifted BSG community. 

Till Netflix creates my tvHarmony, what are my options?  I can keep talking about season two of BSG on Facebook and hope against all probability, that one of my friends is having the same time-shifted experience.  I could quit BSG right now, for lack of a buddy, but that would be an insult to good television.  As much as I hate not being able to talk about the TV I’m watching, I’d still rather consume great programming alone than watch mediocre television as a group. 

Looks like our dog Pete is going to get that tummy rub after all.

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