Television in 2015 — The Rise of Binge-ing.

Mainstream television viewing is slowing dying with binge-ing content online forever increasing in popularity. With the emergence of online aids such as the internet streaming websites, Netflix, as well as Foxtel, Stan and Presto, access has become very easy for those who want to watch their favourite TV shows and movies. They have opened up new forms of spectatorship while experiencing television. In particular, Netflix has revolutionised the way we watch television and it has introduced the concept binge watching. Access to DVD box sets and Netflix subscriptions has changed how we watch television series, and that when no longer captive to network programming, many viewers choose to watch hit series in large chunks, rather than in weekly instalments. However, along with their easy accessibility comes the increasingly prominent act of binge-ing. So what is binge-ing? Binge-ing refers to indulging in an activity in excess, and in the case of watching TV, binge-ing essentially refers to the domestic viewing of multiple episodes sequentially. This concept usually comes with negative connotations although today it is becoming gradually normalised through these streaming platforms. Although, is it healthy to binge watch multiple episodes of your favourite TV show at once? Does it change the way you experience TV?

Let’s start with a discussion of why we binge watch TV shows to begin with. These online platforms are a great way to catch up on TV shows that you haven’t been watching since the beginning, and your best friend keeps telling you that you need to watch the latest season of Greys Anatomy because it will ‘rip your heart out’. So naturally you’d take their word and watch it. We all binge watch because we see it as a great way to escape reality and can become completely immersed into the fictional world.

The biggest and most popular online streaming aid is Netflix. Netflix is an on-demand streaming media that provides viewers with content all around the world. Netflix prides itself on its recommendation algorithm, you will be asked to pick three shows or films that you’d like to watch or know that you enjoy from a range of options. The idea behind Netflix came in 1997 after the CEO, Reed Hastings, was charged $40 for a late VHS copy of Apollo 13.

With the expansion of Netflix in Australia in March 2015, according to a study on Pocketbook Australia, 13% of Foxtel customers are already trialing Netflix, with 6% already switched to either Netflix or Stan cutting their monthly spending from $98 to $11. The attractive pricing and the free first month have persuaded customers to make the switch. With an 89% savings from spending nearly $100 to simply $11 is a key attraction for the public to transition from Foxtel to an on demand streaming website.

According to the DMR Digital Marketing Stats/Strategy/Gadgets study taken in July 2015, Netflix is so highly in demand around the world that 29% of Canadian Netflix users pretend to be from the US for more content. As of April 2015, there are 20 million international Netflix subscribers, and has subscribers in 50 countries. In March 2015, DMR Digital Marketing Stats/Strategy/Gadgets found that there is 38% of Gen X and 26% of Baby Boomers that use Netflix in the US. The forever growing international streaming site is also targeting audiences who haven’t grown up with the luxury of choosing what you watch whenever you want.

In a study on the number of illegal downloads on a Netflix original series published on Statista, two days after the premiere of the second season of ‘Orange Is the New Black’, 55.67 thousand illegal downloads were estimated from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia combined. Two days after the premiere of ‘House of Cards’, 90.84 illegal downloads were detected from the same regions. The statistic illustrates the number of illegal downloads of Netflix’s original series from July 2013 to June 2014. This statistic only highlights how we are rapidly moving away from mainstream television viewing which stimulates the change from Foxtel/Cable TV to online streaming.

Online aids like Netflix are changing the way we view television and are encouraging the idea of binge-ing. They essentially promote the access to movies and TV shows through a small monthly price. Switching from Foxtel to Netflix, or any other online aid, increases the idea of watching what you want, when you want and how much you want, for a cheaper price. As technology has rapidly advanced, a new type of consumer has evolved in recent years — the love child of the Couch Potato and the Channel Surfer — who has been raised on streaming devices and nurtured by entire seasons of shows available at the click of a remote. The concept of ‘travel channels’ has also emerged now that we can stream these online aids on our mobile devices and access them anywhere at any time. With the availability to watch TV shows and movies on any device with a screen, these streaming platforms are swaying the public to become more tech savvy and move toward an even more digitalised age.

After researching, both online and through experiences, the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. Even though certain people can perceive binge-ing as a form of escape from their stresses in life, for example work, relationships, homework, school or university, it comes with the negative connotation of an addiction. It is usually viewed in the sense of not knowing when to stop watching, or when we find ourselves saying ‘one more episode’ after already consuming about five episodes in the series.

As spectators, we are more likely to experience the feelings of shame and disgust while binge watching multiple episodes in one sitting. The spectator can becomes so involved in the narrative that they don’t know when to return to reality. The concept of people over-indulging the body with the imaginary world is very common when binge watching TV shows. When they do finally stop watching, they are left with feelings of guilt of wasting time when they have more productive things to do. Binge-ing can take over your life. Watching movies and television shows shouldn’t be what your whole day consists of, although lately the norm is people wanting to be caught up in a fake world rather than living their own life.

Binge-ing is breaking the ‘norm’ of how television shows should be watched. The episode a week option gave each episode their own story, whereas now if you binge, they can all blur into one. Subscription services like Netflix promote the act of binge-ing as they supply avid fans with an entire series of a show at once. For example, the entirety of season 3 of the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black was released in June 2015. This allows viewers to watch episode after episode with no interruptions. Certain types of TV shows, in this case long form dramas, can be heavy contented and be quite demanding. They require the spectator’s full attention and any distraction can result in a crucial aspect of the narrative to be missed. We are becoming more and more impatient of wanting to know what happens next. Only watching one episode a week doesn’t satisfy the viewing needs of most people, in turn resulting in the spectator watching at least two to six episodes in one sitting.

The activity of binge watching can have a serious impacts on the spectator’s body. In a study found by Arianne Cohen on ProQuest in March 2015, people who say they watch TV “very often” are 40 percent more likely than non-TV watchers to exercise less than one hour a week, according to a six-year study of more than 15,000 adults. Cohen can also conclude that Sitting curves your spine into a C-shape, and keeping it that way too long can cause cramped and aching muscles and smushed organs. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently found that a typical binge in front of a fluorescent light (about four hours) before bed results in a harder time falling asleep, and grogginess the next day, even after clocking eight hours.

There are serious negative implications regarding binge watching and it can be an unhealthy habit to undertake. However, watching episodes in moderation can lessen the chance of the negative impacts it can have on the body. By moderation I mean one to two episodes at once. Viewing episodes sparingly will allow you to enjoy the TV show you are watching as you are more likely to remember the premise of each episode and the seasonal arc. It will take you longer to finish the shows though at least you won’t be stuck with the dilemma of what to watch next than if you were to binge watch and power through the seasons. Binge-ing does change the way we watch television. We end up breaking the norm of how TV shows are supposed to be viewed and by choosing what we want to watch through the access of online aids with a click of a button.

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