Binge-watching is the new way to watch TV. More than one-third of Americans now use a video streaming service such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime. A new report from Nielsen says that 38% of people in the U.S. use or subscribe to Netflix, an increase from 31% in 2012. The report from Nielsen, in addition to discovering that all of the above-mentioned streaming sites saw an increase in usage and subscriptions from 2012 to 2013, also looked at binge-watching in particular.
But what is “binge-watching,” anyway? Most people who use the term are simply referring to watching a lot of TV over an uninterrupted span of time, but to get more specific, Nielsen defines a TV-watching “binge” as viewing three or more episodes of a show per day (as a seasoned binge-watcher myself, I might argue that allowing three episodes to constitute a “binge” might be lowballing, but I digress). Nielsen discovered that 88 percent of Netflix users and 70 percent of Hulu Plus users binge-watch. Perhaps more surprisingly, 58 percent of those surveyed said they actually like to hold off on watching their favorite shows so that they can have “mini-marathons,” or watch several episodes back-to-back.
The desire to binge-watch makes all too much sense. Most technological innovations are – and always have been – geared towards increasing convenience and comfort; providing more instant gratification. It seems clear that consumers have an overwhelming desire to create their own programming lineup, rather than wasting time channel surfing or sitting through shows that happen to be on the same channel as their favorite show. More and more viewers are turning to Internet video services so that they can watch shows at more convenient times, catch up on nominated shows prior to big events like the prime-time Emmy Awards, or just to be a part of the conversation about popular shows.
I can personally attest to having enjoyed some of the above-mentioned advantages that binge-watching provides. This August, I watched all of AMC’s hit show Breaking Bad (#1 on IMDb’s ranking of Netflix shows) that was available on Netflix – four full seasons, and half of the fifth (final) season – over the span of two weeks, finishing just in time for the mid-season premiere of the show. That much binge-watching led to a grand total of 2,538 minutes, or 42.3 hours spent watching the show. Why did I do it, you may ask? Because I had the time, I had heard great things about the show from my peers, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Side Note: Breaking Bad definitely lives up to the hype, with Relevant magazine calling it “an exquisite study of the human condition.”
So much so, in fact, that it led acclaimed actor Anthony Hopkins to write a letter to Breaking Bad’s lead Bryan Cranston, commending his performance.
However, while the advantages may be pretty great for consumers, as they have the freedom to stream as many episodes as they want whenever they want, some fear that this may be harmful for Netflix stock. Because so much content is being consumed so rapidly, Netflix may feel the need to spend money on more and more content to keep up with demand.
Netflix pioneered the binge-watching brand, in part by releasing each of their original and exclusive series – like the popular Orange is the New Black and House of Cards – in one big block. It has become their trademark as well as the trademark of other streaming sites, and they may now have to live with that, for better or worse. To try and do a 180-degree turn and go back to a model where viewers have to wait for new episodes would be a risky proposal at best, and there does not seem to be any indication that Netflix will be changing the way they provide content to their users any time soon, which is great news for binge-watchers like me.