Just a few months ago, the concept of water-cooler television—where weekly episodes become communal, must-see live events that dominate workplace conversations—had become something of an anachronism, at least to those working behind the scenes.
In The New York Times’ August showrunner roundtable, Netflix’s House of Cards creator Beau Willimon declared the end of the singular, common viewing experience, which he argued had been replaced by smaller, “concentric circles” of conversation that better reflected how time-shifting technologies and on-demand options have fragmented audiences. (The rise of second-screen viewing, where audiences live-tweet Scandal, Pretty Little Liars, and more on mobile devices during the show, was said to be the new home for the collective experience.) Later that month, The Guardian excerpted a lecture from Cards' Kevin Spacey that touted the success of the Netflix original series as "kill[ing] the watercooler moment."
Similarly, in his July review of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, Time’s James Poniewozik wrote that while social media can create communal, participatory events—take this summer’s short-lived Sharknado craze, for example—Netflix-style distribution “upends the principle of water-cooler TV: that we see the same things at the same time. The most dedicated Breaking Bad fan will not know Walter White’s fate before you do. Whereas a Netflix season is like a dark maze; we may enter around the same time, but we exit, blinking, separately.”