Binge-watching (also called binge-viewing) is the practice of watching entertainment or informational content for a prolonged time span, usually a single television show. Binge-watching overlaps with marathon viewing which places more emphasis on stamina and less on self-indulgence. In a survey conducted by Netflix in February 2014, 73% of people define binge-watching as "watching between 2–6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting". Some researchers have argued that binge-watching should be defined based on the context and the actual content of TV show. Others suggested that what is normally called binge-watching in fact refers to more than one type of TV viewing behavior (and experience). They proposed that the notion of binge-watching should be expanded to include both the prolonged sit (watching 3 or more episodes in a row, in one sitting) and the accelerated consumption of an entire season (or seasons) of a show, one episode at a time, over several days.
Binge-watching as an observed cultural phenomenon has become popular with the rise of video streaming services in the 2006–2007 time frame, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu through which the viewer can watch television shows and movies on-demand. For example, 61% of the Netflix survey participants said they binge-watch regularly. Recent research based on video-on-demand data from major US video streaming providers shows that over 64% of the customers binged-watched once during a year.
Japanese manga magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump developed a successful formula of publishing individual manga chapters and then compiling them into separate standalone tankōbon volumes that could be "binged" all at once. This Jump formula produced major Japanese pop culture hits such as Dragon Ball (1984 debut), One Piece (1997 debut) and Naruto (1999 debut). According to Matt Alt of The New Yorker, "Jump presaged the way the world consumes streaming entertainment today."
The practice of binge-watching was previously called marathon-watching. Early examples of this practice include marathon viewing sessions of imported Japanese anime shows on VHS tapes in anime fandom communities during the late 1970s to 1980s, and Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite which broadcast multiple episodes from Donna Reed and Route 66 in July 1985.
The usage of the word "binge-watching" was popularized with the advent of on-demand viewing and online streaming. In 2013, the word burst into mainstream use to describe the Netflix practice of releasing seasons of its original programs simultaneously, as opposed to the industry standard model of releasing episodes on a weekly basis.
Actor Kevin Spacey used the 2013 MacTaggart Lecture to implore television executives to give audiences "what they want when they want it. If they want to binge, then we should let them binge". He claimed that high-quality stories will retain audience's attention for hours on end, and may reduce piracy, although millions still download content illegally. Binge-watching "complex, quality TV" such as The Wire and Breaking Bad has been likened to reading more than one chapter of a novel in one sitting, and is viewed by some as a "smart, contemplative way" of watching TV. A recent study found that while binge-watching, people feel "transported" into the world of the show, which increases their viewing enjoyment, makes them binge-watch more frequently and for longer.
ITV Director of Television Peter Fincham warned that binge-watching erodes the "social value" of television as there are fewer opportunities to anticipate future episodes and discuss them with friends. Nevertheless, research has shown that heavy binge-watching does not necessarily mean less social engagement. One study found quite the opposite, reporting that heavy binge-watchers spent more time in interactions with friends and family on a daily basis than non-binge-watchers. Heavy binge-watchers are used by others as sources of opinion about what shows to watch and they often engage in conversations about TV shows both offline and online.
Research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin found binge watching television is correlated with depression, loneliness, self-regulation deficiency, and obesity. "Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way," the authors conclude. Cases of people being treated for “binge watching addiction” have already been reported.
Research published by media scholar, Dr. Anne Sweet, Ph.D., underlines that binge-watching is a form of compulsive consumption, similar to binge-eating, or binge-drinking, and that due to its addictive aspects, it could even represent a form of TV addiction. These findings were problematized by Pittman and Steiner (2019), who found that "the degree to which an individual pays attention to a show may either increase or decrease subsequent regret, depending on the motivation for binge-watching."
Research conducted by media scholar Dr. Emil Steiner, Ph.D., at Rowan University isolated five motivations for binge-watching (catching up, relaxation, sense of completion, cultural inclusion, and improved viewing experience). The author concludes that while compulsiveness is possible, most binge-viewers have an ambivalent relationship with the nascent techno-cultural behavior. Furthermore, he argues that the negotiation of control in binge-watching is changing our understanding of television culture.
Research conducted by Technicolor lab in 2016 found that a binge-watching session does increase the probability of another binge-watching session in the near future. In the meantime, the majority of people will not immediately have another binge-watching session. This indicates that binge-watching is not a consistent behavior for real-world video-on-demand consumers.
Viewing an entire season of a show within 24 hours of its release has become common. According to a 2018 survey of adult TV watchers, 29% reported having done so. Among those aged 18–29, the number increases to 51%.
A 2019 study by Dr. Matthew Pittman of the University of Tennessee and Dr. Emil Steiner of Rowan University examined how attentiveness affected viewer experience and post-binge regret. "The survey (N = 800) determined that the degree to which an individual pays attention to a show may either increase or decrease subsequent regret, depending on the motivation for binge-watching." But simply watching shows that demand more attention is not enough to moderate post-binge regret. Their subsequent research (Pittman and Steiner, 2021) found that viewers who planned their binge-watching ahead of time were more likely to choose shows that aligned with their motives for watching — relaxing comedies, riveting dramas, nostalgic favorites. Such planning improved "viewer engagement, resulting in improved emotional outcomes."
Within the television industry, speculation emerged in the early 2020s that binge watching a new series could make a series less memorable in the long term compared to shows released on a more traditional schedule; Disney+ had success releasing some of its original series on a weekly schedule, in contrast to the Netflix model which is most aggressive among the streaming providers in releasing episodes all at once. Showrunners have increasingly requested that their programs not be released in bulk as a creative decision.
A 2017 study linked binge-watching to a poorer sleep quality, increased insomnia and fatigue. In fact, binge-watching could lead to an increased cognitive alertness, therefore impacting sleep. The results showed that 98 percent of binge-watchers were more likely to have poor sleep quality, were more alert before sleep and reported more fatigue. Authors also emphasize that findings have been inconsistent in sleep research regarding the negative associations between sleep and television viewing, and that it should be distinguished from binge-watching.
A 2016 study found that, overall, viewers who tend to binge-watch are less responsive to advertising than viewers who do not. The effectiveness of advertising declines the longer a viewing session goes on. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to the disruption caused by ads. Binge-watchers want to remain immersed in what they are watching. They do not want to be forced back into the real world.
In 2019, Hulu introduced a new ad format for binge-watchers. A brand runs ads during the first and second episodes of a binge-watching session that include jokes and references to binge-watching. Before the third episode, the brand rewards binge-watchers by running an ad that features a special promotion or announcing they will be able to watch the next episode without commercial interruptions.
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Using streaming and DVRs, TV viewers are increasingly gobbling up entire seasons of shows in marathon sessions