When I was growing up, watching TV was largely a sporadic, if regular, event. Each week, an episode of the shows we followed would air, and the family would gather around the TV to watch. Even after VCRs came to market, the capacity of VHS tapes and the slow, somewhat imprecise nature of fast forwarding and rewinding the tapes meant that binge viewing of TV shows wasn’t ideal.
Even in that time, the demand for marathon sessions of viewing existed. It just wasn’t easy. Sometime in the second season of The X-Files, I caught an episode on TV, loved it, and wondered how I could catch up on all the episodes I’d missed. The show hadn’t been syndicated and DVDs hadn’t been invented yet.
The Internet had, though, and so I went onto an X-Files newsgroup, explained my situation, and offered to pay to ship a whole series of blank VHS tapes to any fan willing to dub the first season and mail the tapes back to me. To my surprise, someone accepted, and a few weeks later, a huge box arrived in the mail. I spent an entire weekend locked in my room, curtains drawn, watching some 30 episodes of The X-Files back to back.
Soon after, DVDs and then DVRs hit the market, and, perhaps not coincidentally, studios started to issue TV series with long, serial plotlines that required that you to start from the beginning and keep up with multiple story threads, all intertwined. A TV series like 24 or Lost, with its complex plotlines, is more difficult to imagine in the age before DVD box sets, DVR subscriptions and Internet episode guides.
This trip through days of TV viewing past is a long way of introducing Continuous Play, a new feature we’ve added to Hulu today. Even in the on-demand world of online viewing, we see plenty of binge viewing as people work their way through multiple episodes in a session. Continuous Play makes this easier.
Though it’s a new feature, it’s built off some logic that already exists on our site. As you play a video from your queue, for example, we will pause for a moment when the video reaches its endpoint, and then move on to play the next video in your queue, automatically. Continuous Play expands this logic outside of the queue.
Now on every video player on our site, you’ll see a new Continuous Play bar under the video player. On the far right is a dropdown that shows what playlist of videos Continuous Play is working from. For now, there are three primary types of playlists. One is Your Queue, mentioned earlier. The next class is Collections, which have always been part of our site, but which now play continuously. The last type of playlist is more of whichever title you’re watching. If you’re watching a bit from Saturday Night Live, the playlist will be “Saturday Night Live” and will play more sketches from SNL in sequential order. If you’re watching an episode of 30 Rock, Continuous Play will play more episodes of 30 Rock in sequential order.
Just to the left of the dropdown is the On/Off switch for Continuous Play which does just what is says it does. If you click on a video from Your Queue, Continuous Play will turn on, and your queue will play one video after another, just as it always has. Select a group of videos from our Collections page, and Continuous Play will also turn on. Anywhere else on the site, we’ve left Continuous Play off by default. If you visit Hulu from the same computer, we’ll retain the on/off state of Continuous Play from one session to the next.
On the far left of our video panel, you’ll find the “next video” button. Clicking it will send you to the next video in the playlist. Hovering over the “next video” button will show the title of the next video to the right of the button, but if you want a visual view of the next videos in the playlist, click the “show playlist” button below the dropdown and a carousel will drop down, allowing you to browse the playlist and jump ahead to another video if you’d like.
Continuous Play controls carry over to full screen and pop-out modes as well. Give it a try and let us know what you think. If you’re looking for a suggestion as to where to start, try Lost. We have the first four seasons. Start with the Pilot episode, turn on continuous play, and some 84 episodes and roughly 62 hours later, you’ll have a good idea of how Continuous Play works (though you may have a lot of questions about smoke monsters, time travel and the nature of fate).
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P.S.: The title of my blog post is a reference to the novel by David Foster Wallace, which I finished recently as part of the recent Infinite Summer book group. In the book, Wallace writes about a film so entertaining that viewers lose all desire to do anything except watch the film again and again. I can’t help but think of that fictional film whenever I hear of someone who stayed up all night watching an entire season of a TV show.