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Marathon magic: Binge-watching helps shows grow fan bases

Cem Ozdel | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A Netflix executive once told The Wall Street Journal that the term "binge" sounds "pathological" to him and that he prefers the word "marathon" because it "sounds more celebratory." Call it whatever you want, the behavior has an observable effect on ratings and viewership.

The TV marathon has long been essential for building hype for the network's new content, said Andy Cohen, executive producer of Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise and former executive vice president of original programming and development at the network.

"The cornerstone of Bravo is the marathon of Bravo shows, " he told CNBC. Cohen said that after blanketing the network with reruns of "Project Runway," the premiere for the show's new season saw boosted audience numbers.

"The marathoning had worked," Cohen said.

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Other networks have seen similar success from the marathon strategy. Prior to the series finale, AMC had a five-day "Breaking Bad" marathon. The network said that 10.3 million people watched the episode.

Television execs use marathons to drive traffic to related content, too.

AMC ran a marathon of "Breaking Bad" to build hype for the spinoff "Better Call Saul" and even created a "Binge Companion. " Entertainment news site Deadline reported that the derivative series debuted with 6.9 million viewers.

"Breaking Bad" showrunner Vince Gilligan has credited streaming services with keeping the show on the air after lackluster ratings during its first two seasons.

Gilligan told Variety, after "Breaking Bad" won its first drama Emmy, that the industry has changed a lot since the show premiered, especially the growing influence of streaming services.

"I think Netflix kept us on the air. Not only are we standing up here [with the Emmy], I don't think our show would have even lasted beyond season two. … It's a new era in television, and we've been very fortunate to reap the benefits," Gilligan said.

Besides the benefits of being able to better sell advertising during marathons and subsequent airing of new content, showrunners and programmers have other reasons to enable consumers to binge at their leisure.

In Netflix's analysis of its own global streaming data, the company found that the typical viewer has to watch quite a few episodes before they become fans. Netflix defined the "hooked episode" as the pivotal moment when 70 percent of viewers would go on to complete the season of that show.M ark

Viewers needed to watch two episodes of "Breaking Bad" before they became fans. Netflix's "House of Cards" did it in three episodes, while AMC's "Mad Men" needed six.

Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, said that the company's analysis led it to believe in its controversial simultaneous full season release model.

"Given the precious nature of prime-time slots on traditional TV, a series pilot is arguably the most important point in the life of the show," he said in a statement.

"However, in our research of more than 20 shows across 16 markets, we found that no one was ever hooked on the pilot. This gives us confidence that giving our members all episodes at once is more aligned with how fans are made," Sarandos said.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns Bravo.

Binge on the full season of "Binge" with Carl Quintanilla here.

Cem Ozdel | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images