If you take the dive, then do it with snacks: ways and reasons for binge-watching
Recently, the Consult Morning agency shared its observations on the ways that viewers from different countries prefer to watch TV shows — whether one episode weekly or a whole season at one go.
It turns out that the most disciplined viewers are in Japan. Most of them watch strictly one episode per week. In Germany and the UK, people may also be conversative on this front. By contrast, Russian, South Korean, Brazilian and Chinese viewers watch a whole season in one go, or at least 3 or 4 episodes. These viewers want to consume as much content as possible at one go, and don’t waste time stretching their enjoyment into weeks or months.
So, the question occurred to us: why do people binge-watch, in general? Or, on the contrary, why don’t they? And are films suitable to this type of viewing?
We have analyzed many studies and even conducted one survey of our own to find out the answer to this question — why do we binge-watch and what do we need to improve the binge-watching experience, making it more pleasant, comfortable and less lonely?
Binge-watching is a phenomenon brought on by streaming services, isn’t it?
Watching for a prolonged time span, or binge-watching, is often named as a creation of streaming services, but it turns out that this isn’t precisely the case. Although the term was coined in 2003, its deep roots were sown only in the time since 2012. In 2013, Netflix was at the forefront of a bit of a revolution when it released the entire first season of House of Cards in one go. Since then, the term “binge-watching” has been in active use. In 2015, Collins Dictionary chose “binge-watching” as its word of the year!
Formally speaking, binge-watching simply continued the age-long tradition of staring at the TV, but with the critical difference that binge-TV-watching is built around a given channel or TV-viewing in general, rather than around a single show, though even before the advent of true binge-watching, some TV channels recognized its potential. These channels tended to broadcast several episodes of one show at one time, whether across a whole day or at the week-end.
This practice allowed viewers to dive into their viewing experience for long periods of time. This turned out to be a winning idea for TV channels in all aspects: a viewer didn’t jump off the wagon, but stayed staring at one channel all day, meanwhile catching as many ads as the TV channel chose to show. But for viewers, this experience turned out to be somewhat less than perfect, because they were neither able to influence the order in which they watched nor the manner in which they watched. Neither were they able to regulate the amount of advertising they were being forced to consume in the process.
Binge watching of VHS or DVD content isn’t much different. It gives the user total control of content and only involves small discontinuities in terms of experience, such as the need to change a cassette or DVD in order to play the next episode.
Sitcom VS drama — what do viewers want to binge on?
Control of content allows viewers to watch one show over and over again, and sitcoms turn out to be properly suitable, precisely in this regard. It does matter what episode you tune in on, plot linearity isn’t vital, suspense isn’t really a factor, and viewers can watch sitcoms either as a background, while communicating with friends, or attentively, as a têt-à-têt experience.
The trend of re-watching sitcoms is really a stable one. On Ranker, for example, you can explore a live-list of TV shows that updates in real time, based upon the results of viewers’ votes. According to this ranking system, the most desirable shows to re-watch are Friends, The Office, The Simpsons and Parks and Recreation. These were available in the 90’s, and they are still available for watching now on streaming platforms.
In addition, binge-watching as a social phenomenon originated out of the possibility to watch new TV shows in their entirety. Among all global streaming platforms, however, only Netflix releases new series by whole seasons, meaning that viewers are more likely to binge-watch there than anywhere else. Other platforms are not interested in this watching pattern, because binge-watchers don’t have to prolong their subscription in order to view; a one or two day subscription is enough for these viewers. In the beginning of May, when Netflix claimed it was losing customers, many analysts suggested that this may be the reason the streaming service is having difficulty retaining its subscribers.
If we look not at the numbers but at the behavior of individual users, we quickly see that some choose to wait, storing up all the episodes of a given show, so as to watch them all at once. These users don’t want to be in standby mode from week to week. When Game of Thrones was released, many fans did just that — keeping episodes in reserve for binge-watching. This, however, created some problems for these users. For instance, when episodes have already been released, how is it possible to avoid coming across spoilers when everyone around is already discussing something you wish to watch in a month’s time?
What percentage of people really binge-watch?
According to surveys, which Netflix conducts regularly, more than 70 % of users binge-watch.
But we need to keep in mind that these studies are a bit biased. If the streaming giant surveys its own users, then of course these users are binge-watching. And so what about viewers of TV shows in general? Those unconnected to any specific platform?
We asked viewers (17–52), who identify themselves as fans of films and TV shows, how many episodes they are usually ready to watch at a single go. It turns out that almost half of all users prefer to watch no more than 1 or 2 episodes at once. The other half are ready to watch more — anywhere from 3 episodes to a whole show. But for some of them the quality of the show is of ultimate importance (why would I binge-watch if I don’t like the show, after all?). Some users noted that their choice depends on the quantity of the free time that they have at any given moment. At the same time, almost all of the respondents said either that binge-watching takes up too much time, or that they would be glad to binge-watch more but that they don’t have the time to do so.
On the other hand, viewers who watch a whole season at once note that they just don’t like having to wait for the next episode every week. Therefore, binge-watching helps them to save their time and emotional energy. By the way, it is Gen Zers who answered in this way. We recently wrote of the fact that they don’t like wasting their time, and here is yet another proof.
We also learned whether people like to binge-watch films.
As you can see, most of our respondents don’t mind watching several films at once. The respondents explained their choice in a similar way. And some noted that “it’s hard to switch between moods in different movies”.
Many of the viewers who agree to watch 2 or 3 films at once explained that this type of content usage works only with franchise productions (“Binge-watching works only for film series, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Harry Potter in my case, but isn’t so suited to films that aren’t connected between each other”, “It allows (me) to get into a specific director’s world or genre”).
Several people answered that this method of watching helps them escape from their everyday routine. And some who refuse to binge-watch are convinced that the behaviour would be harmful to their health.
Not so healthy, right?
According to researchers, fear of missing out (FoMo) is the main reason that people binge-watch today. Users are not ready to delay the final episode of a season (or the next episode), because they are afraid of forgetting details or missing out on the opportunity to discuss with friends, classmates, and colleagues.
According to a study which was conducted in 2020 at The Centre for Media and Communication Studies (University of Gujrat) binge-watching is inextricably linked with depression and stress. But this research was conducted in the midst of a pandemic, when serial viewing was one of only a few ways that people could spend their time. We believe, therefore, that the study’s authors might conceivably be confusing cause and effect: binge-watching doesn’t so much lead to stress, as it is brought on by anxiety and forced self-isolation: binge-watching is a break from reality in order to do something pleasant. Choices, after all, were very limited during the pandemic.
There have been some studies on viewers who are addicted to TV shows outside of forced self-isolation — but don’t these fall prey to the same problem? What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Stress or binge-watching? What if loneliness leads to binge-viewing, then only becomes greater because a viewer is watching in isolation from peers?
According to various studies, desire for belonging is one of the main reasons for binge-watching. But not even one of our respondents states desire for belonging as a reason for or cause of binge-watching. They pinpoint rather the desire to disconnect from their everyday problems, relax, and not miss plot while waiting for the coming episode. Many of our respondents said they would be glad to discuss the show with other viewers who are watching it at the same time.
We also asked what would make binge-watching more comfortable and pleasant. It turned out that food and snacks are irreplaceable, partners and drinks are named as necessary by an equal number of viewers, and no one wants a news feed while watching. It’s all quite logical. After all, all of us watch TV shows in order to switch off reality, don’t we?
Text by Alina Kuzio
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