The rise of binge-watching: a cultural revolution or a fading trend?

After a big day at work, we come back at 6 pm, we slip into our pajamas, we put on Netflix, we play our series and we watch it under our favorite plaid. Enjoying this moment, we’re starting an episode, and a second, and a third, and we can’t stop anymore, we look at the time and it’s already 11pm. If it already happened to you, know that it has a name: binge-watching.

This appellation comes from another phenomenon, binge-drinking, the excessive consumption of alcohol. For binge-watching, it’s the same thing. The excessive consumption of episodes, when you can’t stop watching, and you binge a season in one week; the average is around 2 to 6 following episodes. This televisual marathon touches more series with a lot of suspense, with big cliffhangers, which will completely immerse the viewer in a fictional world. Moreover, with the rise of a lot of streaming platforms this last decade (Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, OCS…) binge-watching has increased. Their accessibility on all supports, TV, phone, computer… make binge-watching easier at every moment in the day, wherever you want. The consumer will pay to subscribe to their platforms, to have access to a hundred of shows, often with the complete seasons (not to wait one week to have the remaining episodes). Covid 19 intensified binge-watching: Netflix had 190 millions of subscribers in 2020.

However, binge-watching can be an addiction if you do it in an excessive way. Several researchers in sociology and psychology made studies on the subject to understand why people used this way to consume their series and what were the impacts (negatives or positives) on their mental and physical health. Binge-watching can cause different symptoms, that seems like a depressive state or leads to it; a negligence in work and in social relationships; a lack of sleep; procrastination; weight gain and bad alimentation; and even stress and anxiety. The binge-watching’s addiction is the same for video games or social media, it concerns the young majority between 18-35 years. 

During their investigation, researchers demonstrated some positive effects. The platform’s users will binge-watch their series to a point of dissociating from reality: forgetting their work’s problems and escaping their loneliness. They will identify themselves as the series’ characters. People are also binge-watching their favorite series because they’re scared to be spoiled. Furthermore, consumers also replied to the study that they’re watching series in an attempt to just relax and chill; it’s in this case that the expression “Netflix and chill” will appear in our discussions and become the best way to binge-watch. The article “Let’s stay home and watch TV: The benefits of shared media use for close relationships” evokes all the advantages of binge-watching as a couple. For the relationships which don’t have a common social network or a long-distance relationship, binge-watching could be a possibility to share a social experience between them, even if it’s in a fiction. But be careful to not close yourself to your partner in a fictional social world like Game of Thrones, you will be surprised to not see dragons in reality…

Binge-watching does not only impact the subscribers of the streaming’s platform, but also big media’s industries like television or cinema. For a decade, television has been in competition with Netflix and the other platforms, thanks to the huge choice of programs. Especially because the seasons are suddenly fully coming out; the absence of ads and no scheduled hours are also beneficial to the users. 

The cinema industry seems to be affected by this increase of binge-watching, many people working in the field of cinema, like producers or directors, are protesting against the streaming’s influence; and Covid19 didn’t help as well. We can observe a decrease in attendance at movie theaters, for some people the social effect of going to the cinema and watching a movie is losing. Like the idea to share a cinematographic experience with perfect strangers and feel some emotions and sensations in front of a film. In that way, binge-watching, like I say, can bring social isolation. 

So, when I talk about binge-watching, I must talk about the production of series, which knows a growth in a way to fulfill the viewers. They will be forced to keep a tight and intense pace, and this could cause some stress and anxiety to the people who work in these movie professions, and even lead to a burn out.  These days, we can clearly see the appearance of writing industrialization in this new numeric era. The streaming’s platforms also understood very well the rising and the enthusiasm behind this new way of consuming series; a lot of series are produced, and the quantity is privileged. The point is to offer a lot of series for the consumer. 

To conclude, these last years there is a hard competition between all the streaming’s  platforms, new ones came on the market, trying to make some space for themselves while older ones are trying to renew their image. Prices are changing, subscribers have become more occasional (particularly for Netflix). Are we starting to see the end of the binge-watching era or the beginning of cinema’s revenge? Personally, I will stay in front of Netflix to watch “Vikings” and “The Walking Dead” with my plaid at 6pm on a rainy monday. 

Chloé Le Cair 

Sources : 

Passeportsante: Binge Watching: décryptage de cette tendance de consommation

Mdpi: Understanding the Phenomenon of Binge-Watching- A Systematic Review 

University of Aberdeen: Let’s stay home and watch TV: The benefits of shared media use for close relationships Netflix, l’usine à séries que le cinéma déteste adorer

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