What is Binging?
The cheap availability of streaming content, combined with the growth of broadband and lightning-fast mobile connections have facilitated the practice of binge-watching (Ascharya, 2014). The term ‘binge-watching’ is an extension of the verb ‘to binge’. Binging is defined as the rapid consumption and excessive indulgence in a short period of time, (Devasagayam, 2014; Goldsmith 2013; Heatherton and Baumeister 1991; Leon et al. 2007). It is often linked with consuming large amounts of food or substances within a short time frame. The term ‘binge’ often has negative and guilt-ridden connotations. The general population refers to excessive media consumption as ‘binge-watching’ and often refers to it as a ‘guilty pleasure’, not a social issue (Pena, 2015; Ramsay, 2013).
Defining Binge Watching
Defining binge-watching is a difficult task. There is not one way to define what constitutes as a binge. Charles Wagner, in his study on guilt in relation to binge-watching, attempted to understand what contemporary audiences consider binge watching. He broke this into how long an episode needed to be and the type of television being watched (Wagner, 2016).
He also researched what types of shows his participants felt could be binged. While 68% believed that sports could not be binge-watched, when multiple sporting events were watched in succession, 21% felt this could be considered ‘binging’. Many participants felt that watching multiple shows of any genre could be considered binge-watching: weather channels (41%), news (25%), award ceremonies (20%), political events (19%), food and cooking shows (68%) and home shopping networks (62%). As you can see, there is still a huge amount of debate in defining ‘binge-watching’. With each new study, a new operational definition is produced that does little to apply “practical or operational structure to the behaviour” (Wagner, 2016).
Percentage of Participants in relation to length of episode
30 Minute Episode = 4 or more to be a 'binge'
30 Minute Episode = 5 or more to be a 'binge'
60 Minute Episode = 4 or more to be a 'binge'
2 Hour Episode = 2 or more to be a 'binge'
Getting your (Net)Fix — Is Binge-Watching an Addiction?
Although binge-watching is considered a guilty pleasure rather than a social issue, and is not viewed in the same light as other bingeing activities, the motives of binge-watchers compared to other bingers are very similar (Pena, 2015; Ramsay, 2013). Viewers today can access a huge variety of television series and films at the touch of a button. Viewers become so immersed in their favourite shows that they want to watch more, while showing similar characteristics as substance and food abusers (Smith, 2014). Addiction is defined as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming” (Connolly et al. 2016, p.300).
Binge-watching is tied to feelings of loneliness and depression (Sung, Kang, & Lee, 2015); Karmakar & Kruger, 2016). Karmakar and Kruger’s study suggests that those who binge-watch lack the self-regulation to stop, suggesting that binge-watching may be an addictive behaviour (2016). In their study, Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi (2002) found that when watching television, viewers felt relaxed and passive. When they stopped, the stress levels of the participants increased reinforcing their belief that “viewing begets more viewing” (2002, p77).
When the show comes to an end, viewers want to continue watching television to maintain their current state of mind (Schweidel & Moe, 2016). Johann Hari believes that “when we are traumatized, isolated or beaten down by life, we will bond with something that gives us some sense of relief” (e.g. cigarettes, alcohol, food, drugs, television, the internet, pornography, shopping etc.) (2015). As a result, he feels that addiction is a manifestation of the disconnection that is happening between people today” (Hari, 2015).
Devasagayam’s findings, in his study on addiction and binge-watching, suggest that viewers can become addicted to their favourite shows because they develop a close, personal attachment to the characters (Devasagayam, 2014; Govaert & Rangarajan, 2014).
Who Binge Watches?
A recent study by Deloitte, found that 73% of US television viewers are binge-watchers (Deloitte, 2017). Shannon-Missal’s research suggests that people aged under 40 were more likely to binge than over 40’s (2013).
What do people Binge Watch?
Everything! Wagner’s study found that participants believe the weather, news, award ceremonies, political events, food/cooking shows and home shopping channels could be binge-watched. The one thing that many argued could not be binged was sporting events (Wagner, 2016).
Where do people Binge Watch?
Everywhere — Netflix is designed to be used across a range of screens of all shapes and sizes: televisions, desktops, tablets and phones (Netflix, 2017). If a user has access to any of the these screen-types, they can, and will, binge-watch!
Why do people Binge Watch?
McQuail’s study in 2010 found that television viewers look for 5 basic gratifications: to be informed or educated, to identify with the characters, to be entertained, to enhance social interactions and to escape the stresses of everyday life (McQuail, 2010).
Binge Watching & Sleep
If you have ever found yourself struggling to sleep after watching multiple episodes of a programme, you are not alone. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 80% of the young adults participating in the study consider themselves binge-watchers. Of these viewers, 98% were more likely to have a poor night’s sleep when compared to those who did not identify as a binge-watcher or partake in binge-watching before bed (Samuelson, 2017). Due to the complex narratives of shows, viewers need a longer ‘cooling down’ period after watching a show before going to sleep, consequently impacting on their sleep overall (Exelmans & Van den Bulck, 2017). Binge watching before sleeping can increase a person’s cognitive pre-sleep arousal which can have negative impacts on sleep quality, fatigue and insomnia (Samuelson, 2017; Tang & Harvey, 2004).
Binge Watching & Relationships
Staying in and watching a movie with your significant other is a nice way to spend an evening, but did you know it also has many benefits for your relationship? “Streaming a show is intimate: You watch at your own pace, often on a personal computer calibrated for privacy. Sharing that experience, then, is a small act of interpersonal intimacy” (O’Connor, 2013).
Compatibility with your Partner
A recent study by Netflix suggests that binge-watching with your significant other might be beneficial to your relationship (Carpenter, 2016). The asked 1000 participants a set of questions to gain a better understanding of the influence Netflix has on relationships today. Nearly one-third of participants said that compatibility in terms of shows was important. 13% said they would ask someone out purely based on their interest in similar shows.
Sharing Netflix Accounts
The study found that over half of the participants felt that sharing your Netflix account with your significant other has become a serious and important step forward in a relationship today (Carpenter, 2016). 17% of those taking part said that they would wait until they were engaged or married to their partner before sharing an account.
In a recent study, Gomillion et al., found that watching TV or reading together can help the intimacy of a couple’s relationship (Gomillion et al., 2016; Levi, 2016). If a couple does not share a real-life social circle of friends, fictional characters can act as a substitute (Levi, 2016). In an interview with Health, Gomillion said “having a shared connection to the characters in a TV series or film might make couples feel like they share a social identity even if they lack mutual friends in the real world (Levi, 2016).
Netflix Cheating is defined as “ watching a TV show ahead of your significant other” (Netflix, 2017). It was first identified in a study in 2013 in the United States. Since 2013, the numbers of Netflix viewers “cheating” has tripled (Netflix, 2017). Netflix’s ‘Cheating’ study, conducted in 2016, found a huge range of reasons why viewers ‘cheat’ on their partners. Some interesting findings are:
- 80% of ‘cheating’ is unplanned. 66% of ‘cheaters’ said the shows are so entertaining that it is difficult to stop.
- 25% of ‘cheating’ occurs when one half of the couple falls asleep. While the ethics of ‘sleep cheating’ varies from country to country, 45% of Japanese viewers consider it unforgivable.
- In Hong Kong, viewers feel that Netflix cheating is worse than real-life infidelity.
Binge Watching & Eating
In a study focussing on binge-watching and food intake, Blass et al. found that “watching television increases the amount eaten of high-density, palatable, familiar foods and may constitute one vector contributing to the current obesity crisis” (Blass et al., 2006). When a person is engaged in a television show and eating simultaneously, they become distracted. Pearson and Biddle found that this could delay normal mealtime satiation and reduce internal satiety signals (Pearson & Biddle, 2011; Bellissimo, Pencharz, Thomas, & Anderson, 2007)
Binge Watching & Children
The amount of time spent watching television in relation to the rise in childhood obesity has been an area of interest in research for a long time (Dietz & Gortmaker, 1985; Robinson, 1999; Robinson, 2001). Bellisimo et al.’s study, with young boys (aged 3–5), found that when the boys were watching television and eating concurrently they ate more than if their sole activity was eating. This suggests that television viewing overrides the physiologic signals of satiation (factors in a meal that bring eating to an end) and satiety (absence of hunger) (Bellissimo, Pencharz, Thomas, & Anderson, 2007).
Bevelander et al.’s study found that “children eat more mindlessly when watching something emotional” (Bevelander, Meiselman, Anschütz, & Engels, 2013). One of the highlights of their study was that children use others’ food intake as a guideline for their own. When watching something happy or sad, children are more likely to adjust to their peer’s intake.
Young children are not in the position to choose the environment where they eat. It is important that parents and schools provide places for children to eat in that limit eating and watching television at the same time (Bevelander, Meiselman, Anschütz, & Engels, 2013).
While binge-watching television can have negative impacts on children, co-viewing shows with children can have greater impact as children pay more attention to the TV and view the material as more important (Natanson, 2012). The new Netflix show, Julie’s Greenroom, is aimed at parents and children who enjoy watching shows on Netflix (Powers, 2017). When watching shows together, children can approach their parents and caregivers seeking input, guidance, and perspective on what they are seeing (Nathanson, 2012). The aim of Julie’s Greenroom is to open the minds of children to diversity (the puppets all celebrate a different branch of diversity. One of the characters, Riley, is a gender-neutral character) while learning about the Arts (Beresford, 2017).
Binge Watching with your Child
Although binge-watching often receives a lot of bad press, Psychologist Cory Hrushka believes that binge-watching provides a gateway for parents to broach sensitive topics with their children and teenagers (Gregory, L., 2017). When the Netflix Original show, 13 Reasons Why, was released in March, it received a lot of criticism for portraying mental health issues, in particular, suicide, in a graphic way (Pacheco, 2017). In an interview with NBC News, Brian Yorkey, creator of the show, said that sexual assault and suicide should be difficult for viewers to watch. He wanted to highlight how difficult these things are for the victims (Rosenblatt, 2017). Stephen Brock, from the National Association of School Psychologists, recommended that parents watch the show with their children and help them to the difficult topics being discussed (Rosenblatt, 2017).
Binge Watching & Mental Health
Binge-watching can have an impact on your mental health. Recent studies have found that self-identified binge-watchers are more likely to report higher stress, anxiety and depression in their daily life (Sung, Kang & Lee, 2015; Karmakar & Kruger, 2016; Lucas et al., 2011). They believe that their findings correlate a relationship between binge-watching, average screen time and mental health status. This suggests that the more lonely or depressed you feel, the more likely you are to binge watch, using it as a distraction to move away from negative feelings (International Communication Association, 2015).