Netflix was first introduced in the United States of America by software engineers Reed Hastings and Marc Rudolph in 1997 as an ‘internet-based movie rental and subscription service’ (McDonald, 2013). Over time, it changed into an online streaming service for television shows, films and documentaries with separate paid plans for advertisement free high-definition streaming and use on multiple devices. It is now the ‘leading Internet television network’ (Netflix Media Centre, 2013) with more than 40 million worldwide users in over 40 different countries.
Netflix is known for releasing episodes of different television series in blocks so Netflix users are able to continually watch one show in one sitting in a sort of marathon. For example, when new seasons of Orange is the New Black are released, all of the episodes are added to Netflix simultaneously. This ability to stream content for hours on end has thus sparked a rise in ‘binge watching’, a term defined by 73% of participants in a 2013 survey conducted by Netflix as viewing between 2 and 6 episodes of one television show in one sitting. Peter Wells (2016) argues that ‘Netflix is to blame for bringing the concept [of binge watching] to the mainstream’. In fact, it has also been said that ‘binge watching and Netflix are becoming synonymous’ (Matrix, 2014).
Throughout the same survey mentioned above, Netflix worked closely with a cultural anthropologist named Grant McCracken, who reasoned as to why nearly three quarters (73%) of survey participants viewed binge watching a television series as a completely normal activity:
“TV viewers are no longer zoning out as a way to forget about their day, they are tuning in, on their own schedule, to a different world. Getting immersed in multiple episodes or even multiple seasons of a show over a few weeks is a new kind of escapism that is especially welcomed today,”
As you can see above, he essentially argued that because we lead a digitalised lifestyle nowadays with some online platforms — Twitter for example — reducing conversations to 140 characters or less, we begin to crave longer narratives and hence, we engage in binge watching to satisfy this craving. Thus, binge watching has been described as ‘this generation’s guilty pleasure’ (Schlomo, 2016).
So whilst binge watching is considered to be nothing that’s out of the ordinary, it makes sense to properly explore its effects, both positive and negative.
On a positive note, in this current digital age driven by technology which has the attention spans of people decrease, binge watching a series could be seen as a way to keep a watcher concentrated on one thing for a block period. ‘Binge watchers have shown an ability to be resilient and focus on a task for long periods of time’ (Pelletier, 2016). Additionally to this and on a broader level in relation to the actual writing process for television shows, it has been argued that writers respond to binge watchers’ general love of watching more complex content by ‘creating better shows’ (Battersby, 2015). When the audience is satisfied, they continue to watch and writers relish in this because they believe it captures the viewers imagination (Battersby, 2015), something that is hard to do nowadays because of our decreasing attention spans.
Furthermore, binge watching a television series can lead to an improved sense of cognitive empathy as viewers are drawn to different characters and get to follow their stories throughout a series without having a gap between episodes or seasons (Pelletier, 2016). When sharing thoughts and ideas about a series with other people, this can see people relate to each other more easily.
Additionally, by binge watching a television series, viewers are able to tailor their schedules to surround how they plan to watch the series. In fact, 76% of the Netflix survey participants preferred to watch shows suited to their schedule. 76% also agreed that watching more than one episode at a time was a more enjoyable way to watch. During my research, I also conducted a poll on Twitter (link to tweet) where my followers voted on whether or not they engaged in binge watching. It only received 13 votes but 85% of voters revealed that they did engage in binge watching. This shows that binge watching is a very common occurrence.
Finally, binge watching has transformed the way we view television and media spaces as a whole. This can definitely be a positive thing as viewers are adapting to the changes that new technology has brought about. ‘What once was an activity restricted to one screen and limited by time, place, and content is now and continues to be an activity increasing in options and possibilities’ (Matrix, 2014)
The above examples are considered to be positive effects of binge watching a television series, but what about the negatives?
It has been argued that binge watching television shows can lead to a series of health problems. The exposure to a screen and light for longs periods of time has been linked to ‘headaches, eye strain, seasonal affective disorder, problems sleeping, poor immune function, hormonal disruption, and anxiety’ (Pelletier, 2016). As well as this, sitting for extended periods of time can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease, as well as back pain and spinal problems (Stone, 2016).
Binge watching has also been said to create anti-social attitudes because it can be an ‘isolating activity’ (Stone, 2016). This can see viewers spending time away from doing every day things they would normally do like seeing family and friends.
Lastly — and possibly the most concerning negative impact — addiction can come with binge watching a series. In relation to addiction, it has been argued that ’the exposure to stimuli eventually produces an emotional reliance in the human psyche’ (Devasagayam, 2014). This can see viewers developing a dependance on this stimuli to make them feel complete. This is definitely an alarming feature of addiction as it can see people lose track of more important things in their lives because they place so much reliance on their viewing content and forget about more pressing things.
Although there are both positive and negative effects of binge watching a television series, I don’t think it is fair to tell a viewer how they should be watching their television shows. If a user is paying for Netflix per month, they are entitled to watch the content it offers however they would like to. Obviously addiction and other health issues discussed above can be problematic, but there are ways to overcome these things and it is ultimately up to the viewer how they do this. With Netflix increasing and updating its content regularly, coupled with the changes to our media spaces and how we opt to watch television, I think binge watching is something that will continue to grow in the future. Netflix will continue to evolve and audience engagement will increase as a result.
Please enjoy the video I made which sums up the above information:
Battersby, L 2015, ‘Binge watching is making television better, say Australian TV writers’, Sydne Morning Herald, 2 July, viewed 20 October 2016, <http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/binge-watching-is-making-television-better-say-australian-tv-writers-20150707-gi3gtv.html>.
Devasagayam, R 2014, ‘Media Binging: A qualitative study of psychological influences’, Marketing Management Association, viewed 29 October 2016, <http://www.mmaglobal.org/publications/Proceedings/2014-MMA-Spring-Conference-Proceedings.pdf#page=56>.
Frazer, S 2015, Netflix revolution shakes up Australian media, telecommunications landscape, ABC, viewed October 26 2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-06/netflix-revolution-shakes-up-australian-media/6678138>.
Matrix, S 2014, ‘The Netflix Effect: Teens, Binge Watching, and On-Demand Digital Media Trends’, Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 119-138.
McDonald, K 2013, ‘Digital dreams in a material world: the rise of Netflix and its impact on changing distribution and exhibition patterns’, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no. 55.
Pelletier, M 2016, ‘The Science of Binge Watching’, Nuskool: Real Life Learning, viewed 28 October 2016, <https://www.nuskool.com/learn/lesson/science-binge-watching/>.
Schlomo, A 2016, ‘Could binge-watching be good for you?’, Headspace, viewed 26 October 2016, <https://www.headspace.com/blog/2016/03/23/could-binge-watching-be-good-for-you/>.
Simpson, C 2016, ‘Australia: Here’s Every TV And Movie Streaming Service You Can Watch’, Gozmodo, 29 January, viewed 20 October 2016, < http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2016/01/heres-every-tv-and-movie-streaming-service-you-can-watch-right-now-in-australia/>.
Spangler, T 2013, ‘Netflix Survey: Binge-Watching Is Not Weird or Unusual’, Variety, 13 December, viewed 20 October 2016, <http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/netflix-survey-binge-watching-is-not-weird-or-unusual-1200952292/>.
Stone, C 2016, ‘How Unhealthy Is Binge Watching? Press Pause, and Read On’, Readers Digest, viewed 28 October 2016, <http://www.rd.com/culture/binge-watching-unhealthy/>.
Wells, P 2016, ‘The Case Against Netflix’s Binge-Watching Model’, Gizmodo, 28 July, viewed 20 October 2016, <http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2016/07/the-case-against-netflixs-binge-watching-model/>.
Video images (in chronological order):
Netflix logo: http://thenextweb.com/apps/2016/06/20/netflix-just-changed-logo/
Woman intensely looking at screen: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/11-stages-watching-netflix
Family watching Netflix in socks with popcorn: https://storify.com/mmlindsay/netflix-target-market
Netflix is my drug of choice: http://aghoulsbestfriend.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/netflix-addiction-vol-1.html
Must. Watch. Netflix.: http://theorion.com/38571/opinion/netflix-addiction-stole-years-of-my-life/
My own time lapse footage was used with the permission of my brother who features in the footage