The zeitgeist phrase “binge viewing” may bring to mind images of lonely compulsion, but a recent survey conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Netflix among nearly 1,500 TV streamers (online U.S. adults who stream TV shows at least once a week) found that binge watching is a widespread and well-regarded behaviour among this group, with 61% binge watching regularly and 73% feeling good about it.
A majority (73%) defined binge watching as watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting. And there’s no guilt in it. Nearly three quarters of TV streamers (73%) say they have positive feelings towards binge streaming TV.
To better understand why binge watching has become such a cultural phenomenon, Netflix worked with cultural anthropologist, Grant McCracken, to trace the evolution of binge watching and more importantly, to explore how and why binge watching television is resonating with today’s viewers. McCracken went into the living rooms of several TV viewers across the United States and Canada to explore their changing TV behaviors.
“I found that binge watching has really taken off due to a perfect storm of better TV, our current economic climate and the digital explosion of the last few years,” says Grant McCracken, cultural anthropologist. ”But this TV watcher is different, the couch potato has awoken. And now that services like Netflix have given consumers control over their TV viewing, they have declared a new way to watch.”
“Our viewing data shows that the majority of streamers would actually prefer to have a whole season of a show available to watch at their own pace,” says Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix. “Netflix has pioneered audience choice in programming and has helped free consumers from the limitations of linear television. Our own original series are created for multi-episodic viewing, lining up the content with new norms of viewer control for the first time.”
McCracken believes our digital lifestyle, where storytelling is often reduced to bite-sized, 140 character conversations, leaves us craving the kind of long narrative of storytelling in today’s great TV shows. “TV viewers are no longer zoning out as a way to forget about their day, they are tuning in, on their own schedule, to a different world. Getting immersed in multiple episodes or even multiple seasons of a show over a few weeks is a new kind of escapism that is especially welcomed today,” he added.
TV streamers overwhelmingly agreed. 76% of TV streamers say watching multiple episodes of a great TV show is a welcome refuge from their busy lives. 79% said watching several episodes of their favourite shows at once actually makes the shows more enjoyable. And three-quarters (76%) also say streaming TV shows on their own schedule is their preferred way to watch them.
McCracken found a new trend emerging he characterizes as “In case of emergency, break glass.” TV streamers are deciding to save shows to watch for a later date. While McCracken observed this in his research, the survey confirmed that more than one third (37%) of TV streamers said they prefer to “save” new TV series or seasons to stream at a later date.