You’re on the couch, lost in your favorite show and the infamous message appears: “Are you still watching?”
In the age of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, binge-watching is a common occurrence. Dr. Holly Holladay, assistant professor in the media, journalism and film department at Missouri State University, is fascinated by the phenomenon.
What is binge-watching?
Binge-watching is the act of watching multiple episodes of the same television show in one sitting. It transforms watching television for leisure into a task to be accomplished.
Holladay says this can increase or decrease the satisfaction of watching TV.
“There is a lot of research about the idea of immersion, or transporting yourself into a show,” Holladay said. “It can be viewed as a form of escapism, but many people also learn to deal with personal situations and ask moral questions from the shows they watch.”
Why do we binge-watch our favorite shows?
There are a few reasons why binge-watching is common in the age of streaming.
First, Holladay notes, is the concept of serialization. This is when you don’t have closure at the end of one episode. Instead, the show follows an extended narrative that covers multiple episodes, seasons or the entire show.
“Many of the sitcoms, such as ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends’ that we loved in the late ’90s had narrative closure with each episode,” Holladay said. “But today’s sitcoms, such as ‘Parks and Recreation,’ have longer narratives that can confuse a viewer who enters in the middle of the storyline.”
The effects of technology
Another reason for binge-watching is viewer freedom from a television station’s schedule.
“We have unprecedented control over what we watch and when we watch,” Holladay said.
This control comes mainly from the influx and evolution of television technology, such as video-on-demand and digital streaming services.
The traditional network television rating system has a difficult time keeping up.
“Last year when renewal contracts were coming out, Fox decided not to renew ‘Brooklyn 99’ because its ratings were low,” Holladay said.
But, Fox didn’t account for the viewership “Brooklyn 99” had on Hulu or delayed recordings.
“When news of the cancellation hit social media, people went nuts,” she said. “It was like a fan base came out of the woodwork.”
NBC picked up “Brooklyn 99” for another season on network TV. This came 32 hours after Fox made the decision to cancel the show.
Holladay thinks viewer response on social media played a role in NBC’s decision, along with economic benefits between the producers and the network.
Is binge-watching bad for us?
The term “binge-watching” implies a negative connotation, but Holladay believes it is possible to binge-watch in a reasonable way.
“We naturally want to police any extreme behavior,” Holladay said. “But I don’t see the difference in watching eight hours of television compared to any other leisure activity, as long as it is not taking you away from responsibilities.”