Netflix: A Binge-Watching Revolution

6.05.2014

By Erin Orrick

Netflix Load

Nine out of the 10 people I talked with as I stood outside Wescoe Beach admitted to it. Four of those 10 people did so sheepishly while the other five practically bragged about it.

I was skeptical of Jeff, a University of Kansas sophomore and the lone individual who didn’t cop to feverishly binge-watching a television show on at least one occasion. And I continued to hold on to my skepticism even when he told me it was because he didn’t own a TV.

Like the others, I asked him if he watches Netflix. “Well, yeah. Who doesn’t?” he said.

I joked that he was a rare breed, someone who watches Netflix, but has yet to binge-watch anything. “I’m sure it’ll happen someday,” he said. “It just hasn’t yet.”

Jeff is an unusual specimen, indeed. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Harris Interactive, a world-leading market research firm, 62 percent of nearly 2,500 online TV streamers interviewed binge-watch on a regular basis.

The word “binge-watch” isn’t new. According to oxforddictionaries.com, the term has been around in circles of television fans since the 1990s, but did not become mainstream until 2013. Coincidentally, this was the same year both of Netflix’s original series, “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” debuted.

The same Harris Interactive survey also revealed that 73 percent of those viewers polled defined binge-watching as consuming two to six episodes of a television show in one sitting, or roughly two to six hours of straight viewing.

This begs the question: Why do we spend countless unproductive hours on a couch staring intently at a TV show?

“I think what makes it so appealing is that people love to set their own timetables,” said Mandy Treccia, a writer for TV Source magazine and Examiner.com. “Everyone is busy, so instead of making sure that you’re on the couch in front of the TV at an exact time, you can just boot up your computer and pick a time and show that fits your schedule. I think people love having that extra sense of control.”

In response to Harris Interactive’s survey, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, said Netflix’s viewing data reveals that the majority of viewers prefer to have a whole season of a show available to watch at their own pace, a concept that Netflix has pioneered. Differing from Hulu or Amazon Prime, who also stream original series, Netflix’s own original programming is created for multi-episodic viewing, providing content with new norms of viewer control for the first time.

Whether it’s control or an intense lack of patience, Netflix’s new model of releasing episodes of original programming like, “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” all on one day has turned binge-watching into a national fad. It’s not necessarily an attractive one on some occasions, but a fad nonetheless.

“Oh, it gets ugly really quickly,” said Whitney, a KU junior, who was too embarrassed to reveal her last name. “I’m usually in a sweatshirt, yoga pants and my hair is a mess. It’s also really hard to binge-watch without consuming large amounts of food. I mean, you’re sitting in front of your TV, engaged, and at some point between hours four and five of non-stop watching, you don’t realize you’ve plowed through two bags of chips and a two-liter of pop already. It’s so addicting.”

Though Netflix’s model appeals to many of its nearly 34 million U.S. subscribers, the all-in-one release format has a few notable downsides.

For the binge-watcher extraordinaire, a typical network or cable 13-episode season lasts three and a half months. Netflix allows such a fan to cram 13 episodes all into one day, two at the most. Speaking from personal experience, this makes the next new season seem like an eternity away.

As a not-so-quick consumer, and in an age of rapid technology, you have to be wary of spoilers and essentially disconnect yourself from the Internet while you watch.

“I don’t think anyone has gotten it quite right yet,” Treccia said. “Netflix releasing 13 episodes of ‘House of Cards’ in one sitting is great, but either you sit and watch them right away or you try to avoid the Internet to make sure that you don’t get spoiled. The network models of 22 episodes are nice because you get more episodes than Netflix or cable, but because they stretch seasons from fall to spring, there are always a lot of breaks.”

Whichever model proves to cater to your personal preference, Netflix has re-invented the way TV shows are watched.

“I love Netflix,” Nate, a KU senior, said. “I love being able to decide what I watch, when I watch it and how much of it I watch. I binge-watch way more than I probably should, and I’m pretty sure it has adversely affected my grades at some point. Some shows just pull you in, and you can’t stop. It’s an addiction.”

I thanked Nate for his comments. He smiled, turned to walk away and then stopped. He looked over his shoulder and jokingly called back at me, “Do they have rehab for Netflix addicts?”

 

Edited by Hannah Swank

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