Binge watching is a relatively new and improved phenomenon that allows a viewer to watch as much of a serialized television* program(s) as they wish, without the limiting confines of a programming schedule.
While there are some serious benefits to this craze, the way in which we now watch has left many of our familiar habits in the dust, and permanently altered industries and our culture as we know. Should we be worried? Or are we blindly riding the wave of the future?
In case you didn’t know, we are a culture of device-users constantly searching for stimulation in all forms, from morning until night—even then, we can’t shut the things off because they also serve as our alarm clocks. Our need for constant visual entertainment has evolved, from the cinema to the television, the home videotape to the digital video disc, and eventually, to the wireless web. From the invention of the Zoopraxiscope (film projector) in 1879, until just over fifteen years ago (TiVo), watching images on a screen (big or small) was typically a predetermined activity. Today, we call the shots, and the once powerful TV figures are feeling the heat.
Simply put, being in control of one’s own watching habits allows for productivity (for those of us with self-control): no longer having to wait until 8:30 for the show to start when you have free time at 6:47. This means more free time once you’ve had your fill, and eliminates the dilemma the same time next week. But this on-demand attitude is also having major cultural effects on society, and even our brains.
It is important to remember that while streaming and on-demand viewing are newer sensations, TV bingeing has actually been around for decades. From the earliest television broadcasts, stations (local and national) have relied on marathon programming of popular serials to fill space during non-peak viewing hours. Remember when FOX (or Global) would broadcast a marathon lineup of The Simpsons’ Halloween episodes in a lead-up to the week ending October 31? Or Spike TV’s penchant for airing a day’s worth of Sylvester Stallone’s testosterone-fueled action duds on Father’s Day? The obvious difference between bingeing on cable and bingeing on Netflix is the lack of commercials. So what’s the big deal?
Autonomy has always been a popular factor. There is no greater feeling than picking up the remote control and fast-forwarding through the commercials during your favourite show. It’s a blatant Up Yours! to the faceless people who pick at your razor-thin attention spans and overload your minds with materialistic prompts, inane jingles and those miserable Sarah McLachlan-scored animal abuse spots. Basically, they remind you that your day could feel a lot longer (and happier) if you weren’t forced to watch their ads.
This power, however, has hurt the advertising industry, and as a result, the television industry and the economy. When people aren’t viewing ads, they aren’t being inspired (or reminded) to buy things they don’t need—or at least that’s the argument. Sure, agencies sneak their product placements into other channels of our digital world, but is it really enough? Could this lack of sponsoring eventually hurt us?
Only time will tell.
*For the sake of this article, we will omit movies from the equation. They obviously apply, too.