Simple Hack to Curb Binge Watching on Netflix

Winner of the Therachat Binge Watching Prize at the 2018 SF Reverse Hackathon

Team Pause was the winner of the Therachat “Binge Watching” Prize at Hack Mental Health’s Reverse Hackathon 2018 in San Francisco.

Therachat “Binge Watching” Prize: For the best solution that targets the issue of binge watching.


The ‘Just One More ’ Problem

source: https://alifeofproductivity.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/00-scaled.jpg

We all know the story. You tell yourself you will only watch one episode of Stranger Things or Westworld, and before you know it, the sun has set and your family size bag of chips is empty.

Binging television feels great in the moment but damages your overall wellness by giving up your health, productivity, and social life. Streaming services design features to keep you on. Content creators try to keep you hooked as well. When you look at the typical episode format, it usually starts with a bang, has some lull periods in the middle, then ramps back the excitement and ends of a cliff-hanger, leaving you feeling incomplete and wanting more.

source: http://www.gamasutra.com/db_area/images/feature/3848/image005.png

Traditional weekly scheduled shows do not cause a binge watching problem because the seven day wait period creates a natural stop mechanism for the viewer. The cliff-hanger acts as a hook to keep viewers excited to tune-in next week. Unfortunately, shows available on streaming services do not have this natural stop mechanism but still have the same episode format with the cliff-hanger at the end — leading to binge watching.

Rethinking How We Watch Shows

To address this problem, we have to rethink how we watch a show. Instead of dividing the show by its episodes, we must view it as a whole storyline with arcs, and corresponding climax and lull points. Consequently, we can set a mechanism to stop our watch session at a point in the story where the arc we were watching has finished and is easiest for us to stop. So instead of determining your watch session based on finishing a certain number of episodes, which are designed to keep you hooked at the end, you would watch based on the length of time you set for yourself at the beginning of your watch session. The stop mechanism will find the best point to stop before things get exciting again, given the time limit you set at the beginning.

The Stop Mechanism: ‘Pause’

When you start up your streaming service, you will be prompted to enter two inputs:

  • The length of time you want to watch your shows
  • What you plan to do after, and the consequences of failing to follow through with your plan

Once the information has been submitted, you watch your shows like you normally would. Once the time length has been approximately reached, the mechanism will find a good point to stop watching and your screen will turn dark to display the following message:

Now is a good point in the show to stop. Would you still like to continue?

This is what you said you would do now: [this is where what you inputted about what you planned to do after your watch session ended would appear to nudge you to stick to your plan]

At the moment this message pops up, the mechanism will initiate a “limbo” period (e.g. one minute) where the user must wait for it to end before they can resume watching their show if they choose to. As such, these three components work together to decrease the likelihood of binge watching while creating an enjoyable watch session for the user.

Making it Work

We envision the first version of Pause as a Chrome Extension.

To determine the ‘good points to stop’, we are investigating a few methods. Here is a graph of the heart rate of someone watching an episode of Game of Thrones (S5E8 if you are curious). This graph correlates pretty well with the graph of an typical episode structure and acts as a good indicator of where the excitement and lull of an episode lie.

source: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-JV462_Throne_G_20150813012524.jpg

By pairing our tool with wearable devices (e.g. Fitbit, Apple Watch) to measure heart rates, it gives us a good starting point. To ensure that these points are actually good points in the story to stop watching, users can mark points where they think are good points to stop watching. (This benefits future viewers and can rely on a pay it forward mentality or by introducing incentive or recognition schemes.)

For new releases, there is no data unless we have “test watchers” before release and use their data to set the points before the episodes air. Alternatively, we can introduce a default stop point when 10% of the episode is left, in anticipation of a potential cliff-hanger.

Will I Still Have the Same Quality of Flow?

Even better! You will be able to watch a whole story arc without pesky cliff-hangers, credits, and intros. Streaming services like Netflix have features that allow you to resume watching where you left off and skip credits to make the viewing experience more seamless. These features complement Pause perfectly since moving into the next episode will be fluid if the start of your watch session is close to the end of an episode right before a cliff-hanger.

The Story Begins

Thank you for taking the time to learn about our idea. Binge watching may seem fun in the moment but can have grave impacts on our physical, mental, and social health — especially if this is a chronic behavior. We hope that the creation of this tool can help prevent some of these negative consequences so that we can take more joy out of the benefits that streaming services offer us. We sincerely appreciate all feedback — whether they be critical or supportive. So please let us know what you think about the idea and don’t leave us hanging 😉!

Team members from left to right: Michael Lay, Viola Lee, Sally Ma, Dinesh Balaji, Seo Michael