Many would have had the experience of sitting in bed one day, surfing through episode after episode of a favorite show. Well that, is binge watching. Binge watching is the act of viewing multiple episodes of a television show in rapid succession. This phenomenon has been observed for a while, but has since become popular with the rise of online media services such as Netflix, Hulu and, regionally, Watcha Play.
- Binge Watching in Korea
Netflix, an American streaming media service, started providing its services in Korea beginning January, 2016. After analyzing the patterns of viewing habits for the past five months, the average amount of time it took for Korean viewers to binge watch a series turned out to be three days. According to the website, audiences mainly binge watched shows such as Dexter, Bates Motel, and Breaking Bad— thrillers. The English drama Misfits was the most binge-watched series by Korean members. The main audience level was people in their twenties.
People tend to watch comedies more slowly and binge watch thrillers at a fast pace. “The contents of the same genre have extremely similar binge watch indexes” says Cindy Holland, the vice president for original content at Netflix, “Binge watched series generally raises the question ‘What will happen to the characters?’, while slow-paced viewings have to do with the question ‘What would I do?’.”
Netflix came to the conclusion that “Korean viewers are fast and impetuous.” It stated that shows such as Narcos(a chronicled look at the criminal exploits of a Colombian drug lord), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt(an American sitcom), and Bloodline(an American television thriller–drama series) are slowly viewed worldwide, but binge watched by Korean viewers. Regarding Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, viewers worldwide are interested in unraveling the complex social problems found in the humor along with satire. The viewers of Korea, on the other hand, like the plot and narrative and the fast development of events.
- The Changes that Binge Watching Brought
Because of the changing platforms that binge watching has brought, there have been many changes to information gathering. Streaming services aren’t merely limited to knowing what viewers are watching, but when, where and with what kind of device. It keeps a record of every time we pause, rewind, or fast-forward the action, and how many of us abandon a show entirely after watching for a few minutes. If enough people pause, rewind or fast-forward at the same place during the same show, data crunchers start to make some inferences.
Knowing that audiences are likely to indulge in a marathon viewing session naturally changes how producers construct programs and whole series. There's less point in a mid-season cliffhanger, for example, if viewers are simply going to let Netflix do its thing and play the next episode 13 seconds after the previous one ends. Actors are noticing the effects, too. Tina Fey, who launched her next show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, on Netflix, says she finds the streaming format “freeing.” There was no demand for a pilot, no test-marketing song-and-dance to perform. Algorithm counting provided by big data helps exploit the big data capabilities to influence programming choices.
The analyzed data is used to choose what series to make in the future, or decide on how to navigate an existing series. House of Cards is one of the first major test cases of this big data-driven creative strategy. Netflix executives have said that their detailed knowledge of Netflix subscriber viewing preferences clinched their decision to license a remake of the popular and critically well regarded 1990 BBC miniseries. Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also favored movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons.
The new media services buy up an entire season (or two) of a series. And by releasing full seasons in one fell swoop and streaming them ad-free, these platforms have trained viewers to binge, and to be increasingly impatient with once-a-week episodic television and commercial breaks. The weekly episodic model, thanks to the advent of high-speed internet and the connected services they've enabled, has changed to a new, free schedule.
This change in air time scheduling has made it possible for individuals to adapt the programs to the pace of their own lives. Thus, it has brought a new type of viewing. Using timeshifting technology, broadcast TV viewers make TV conform to their schedules and subject it to the whims of their clickers. Audiences can now miss the original broadcast of a program by hours, days, even years and still find plenty of other viewing options. Evening being “prime time” for watching a television program is disintegrating as people utilize their option of catching their favorite shows at various times of the day, whether it be in the morning, at midnight, or whenever is most convenient for them. “Time-shifted” viewing is the watching of recorded programming up to seven days after an original broadcast. It circumvents the carefully planned flow of network placements and “challenges the decades-long practice of the linear segmentation of an evening’s programming.”
Breaking Bad bridged the old and new perfectly, offering a stunning paradox of each distribution model's merits. The week-to-week during the last hours of the series proved to be an anomaly for millions who latched on to the growing buzz and raced through the previous five-and-half-seasons during the 12-month pre-climax hiatus – the binge before the episodic storm. Many caught up just so they could be part of the ending as it happened, so they could join in on the conversation rather than cover their ears to avoid spoilers.
- The Pros and Cons of Binge Watching at Personal Level
The binge-viewing model gives the viewers the 'entire body of text' at their beck and call. It is more of an organic storytelling method (you don't read one chapter of a book a week). Robert Thompson, the Director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, says that "You can appreciate so much more, you can catch so much more, you can understand the inner workings of these stories if you view them in more concentrated chunks than you can if you watch them as they come out."
Binge watching also allowed the audience more convenience and options to watch programs on their own time. The viewers became more independent, and began to have more impact on the type of shows being produced. There is more power to the consumers.
However, binge watching can drain one’s emotional battery, making it harder to appreciate the content provided. "It's like you're punch drunk, and saying 'come on feed me another one,'" Greg Dillon, associate professor of psychiatry and public health at Weill Cornell Medical College, says. ”Even a single episode has so many highs and lows that by the end of it you're so beaten up, you're less receptive to the emotional and intellectual ideas being put forth." Dillon believes it may be more difficult for bingers to fully appreciate the high quality content in front of them when scoffed down instantly. With more traditional distribution models there is arguably more of an opportunity to let the experience sink in and look forward to the next part of the journey.
There is also the absence of shared experience. Because everyone watches shows according to their own schedule, the part of shared experience is now gone. As the creator of the binge-watch hit Orange Is the New Black, Jenji Kohan, puts it: “I miss having people on the same page.”
Another factor to consider is the feeling of withdrawal when the audience runs out of new episodes. A viewer may watch the whole series in one day, but the production schedule doesn't change. Viewers may have to wait years until the next season. Many experience sadness when the binge is over. The strength of our desire for gratification plays into a debate which psychologists call Connoisseur vs Addict. The former loves to be present in the moment, can savor the engagement and sees how everything ties into a beautiful package. The latter just needs a fix.
The Connoisseur and Addict fit the consumers of binge watching. For some, they take in the series organically, at their own pace. They dive into what is shown to them, and take time and effort to marinate. They make the experience whole, and their own. For others, the binge viewing experience is similar to traditional drug and alcohol additions, where users chase of a fix. They are hopeless addicts burning through content.
The rise of binge watching is changing many aspects of our lives. The impact is so great that even an entire industry has built up around binge-watching. Marketing and distribution formats are being dramatically altered by the rise of the digital box set. One can now find huge advertising campaigns geared around TV "bundles". Whole series are being sold instead of one DVD, and it is also made available online.
To adapt “well” to the strong influence that binge watching has brought, there is a need for the viewers to focus on the virtues of moderation. Every episode of every series is just a click away, waiting for the move of the viewer. It is now up to the individuals to follow the steps of the Connoisseur, and steer away from becoming the Addict.