Marathon (media)

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A marathon is an event in which many hours-worth of visual media (film, television, YouTube videos etc.) is consumed in one sitting. When organized by viewers, they can be a solitary event or a social one, with theme ranging from horror films or chick flicks. Marathons are usually aired by cable channels and consist of numerous episodes of a television series once broadcast on network television and more recently, also with original first-run programming aired on cable channels.

In television, a marathon can also be an officially programmed event with the sequential broadcast of a single or a number of related television programs, most notably reflecting a theme. It is an extension of the concept of block programming.

With technological advances in the second millennium, and the greater distribution of media, marathons have left the TV screens and entered the home living rooms.


The most common reasons for a network to run a marathon are:

  1. to celebrate the acquisition of a series,
  2. to lead into a highly anticipated episode of a series (such as a return from a hiatus or a series finale),
  3. likewise to allow viewers to catch up on a series before a season finale,
  4. when well known star of a show retires or dies (this is particularly popular on networks such as TV Land and Game Show Network, which specialize in reruns),
  5. to celebrate (or to take advantage of additional viewers on) a holiday,
  6. to burn off a contract for a television series that has proved unprofitable, or
  7. to inexpensively counterprogram against more popular programs such as the Super Bowl.[1]

Marathons are attractive to genre movie fans, or families that like watching their favourite movies/TV shows in blocks at a time.[2]


Television marathons originated at Nick at Nite, where Alan Goodman and Fred Seibert created the idea in 1985. Goodman and Seibert based the concept on a similar concept that radio stations used, in which songs by one particular artist would be played for a prolonged period of time. While early marathons were rare and special, in modern time it is common for some networks to air a television series in three- to four-hour blocks, sometimes on a daily basis, that are sometimes to referred to mini-marathons. Documentary channels such as History and National Geographic Channel, in particular, have begun routinely to broadcast marathons of 12 hours or more of some programs. Separated by movies and other series, Law & Order and its related spin-offs air on TNT, USA, and Bravo a total of approximately ten times a day.

Because of the expense of producing new episodes, almost all marathons primarily feature reruns of episodes already previously seen, although a new episode may be tacked on at or near the end in prime time (the marathon may end by replaying that new episode into the overnight hours). In a few cases, especially with classic television, lost episodes, originally unseen television pilots, and other programming that may not have been seen during the show's original run may be included.

Marathons have proven to be a viable way of rerunning reality television contests, which have otherwise been relatively difficult to rerun in traditional forms (e.g. daily "strip" syndication) because of the loss of the element of surprise. In December 2012, MTV announced that it would air a seven-day (168 hour) marathon of Jersey Shore before the series finale on December 20, 2012; this marked one of the longest marathons in television history.

It has been speculated in the early 2010s that marathon television viewing or binge watching, usually done on-demand by ordering a whole season of episodes of a television series on a service such as Netflix, is increasing in popularity. Infomercial blocks are generally not considered marathons beyond jocular mentions of such for networks such as CNBC which program heavy infomercial schedules on weekends or financially struggling stations which schedule them in high-profile time periods.


The name refers to the length of viewing, rather than the film medium; therefore a movie marathon can consist of television episodes too. In extreme movie marathons, such as the Simpsons Marathon (which lasted 86 hours and 37 minutes), the viewing time can last an exceptionally long time.[3] However, a typical marathon will usually be 3 movies(approximately 6 hours). Generally the host will bring a collection of movies, and allow the guests to vote on which ones they want to watch.[4] A Year of Programs for Teens recommends a movie marathon should be three movies in length.[5]

As the name suggests, marathons usually run for a long period of time; up to days if it is a movie marathon or a series with many episodes. There is no industry standard on how many episodes or hours officially constitutes a "marathon." Some of the longest running marathons are the two Twilight Zone marathons that air on Syfy in the United States on New Years Day and Independence Day; not counting early morning infomercials, each run for roughly three days straight. Holidays are a common time for marathons; for instance, on Thanksgiving in 2010, over 40 cable networks aired marathons of various lengths.

The longest continuous marathon in the history of television was a twelve day marathon of The Simpsons that aired on FXX, which aired non-stop from August 21, 2014 until September 2, 2014.[6] The marathon featured the first 552 episodes of the series (every single episode that had already been released at the time) aired chronologically, including The Simpsons Movie, which FX Networks had already owned the rights to air. The first day of the marathon was the highest rated broadcast day in the history of the network so far, the ratings more than tripled that those of regular prime time programming for FXX.[7] Ratings during the first six nights of the marathon grew night after night, with the network ranking within the top 5 networks in basic cable each night.[8]


Chosen media[edit]

The selections may make up the entirety of a singular franchise, for example watching all eight Harry Potter movies or the first season of Friends. Alternatively, participants may be free to chose their favorite pieces of media and watching them in a random order. If there are younger viewers present, the list of possible media will be limited, in order to prevent scary or inappropriate imagery from being shown.[2] A Year of Programs for Teens recommends showing a series of recently released movies, noting that the presenter should have a performance license. It notes that movies can be chosen with a theme, such as superhero movies, sequels, school, or scary movies, and also refers to the movie ratings being taken into account when choosing the selections.[5]


Movie marathons may be hosted in a private residence or in movie theaters[9] It notes that viewers should be able to come and go as they please.[5]


Popcorn is considered a staple for movie marathons.[4] Some people prefer to provide multiple flavors of popcorn, while others prefer to provide plain popcorn and flavoring separate so that participants can flavor it themselves.[5]

See also[edit]