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The fast-paced living in today’s society leaves no time for inconvenience. Consumers today usually opt for services that are easily adjustable to their time of need. The television and film industry is no exception. To adapt to these circumstances, numerous technological advancements have been made to make most media content readily available for continuous consumption. This is where “binge-watching” comes in. Binge-watching is a term that is familiar to most people, especially in today’s technological age.
Even without much background on this phenomenon, binge-watching has become so common that people are able to converge it with their everyday vocabulary. Binge-watching is derived from the word “binge”, which is defined as the excessive indulgence in a certain activity at a short period of time. This is often described by many as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and it is viewed negatively as most would link this term to addiction (Peña 3). Although there is no exact definition that perfectly captures its meaning, binge-watching is characterized as watching numerous movies or episodes of a television series in one sitting. Also, binge-watching is commonly associated with words such as “marathon viewing” and “back-to-back episodes”. Now, binge-watching is seen as a “trend” or a popular practice and is even exploited as a marketing scheme in the television and film industry (Mikos 157). The term “binge-watching”, in itself, only appeared recently despite existing for over 30 years. In order to further grasp why this phenomenon took so long to emerge into popular culture, it is best to understand its history and the industry which allowed it to flourish. Binge-watching behavior traces its beginnings back to the 1950s, with the growing industry of television. However, binge-watching during this time was not easily feasible as the television programs were mostly linear telecasts. Programs were “linear” as they aired at a standardized schedule. For example, a certain television show would air once a week at a specified time slot.
However, this changed in the 1980s with the rising popularity of televised marathons and video home systems (VHS) tapes. Televised marathons was used as a marketing scheme wherein “back-to-back” episodes of a popular series was aired, allowing viewers to catch up or rewatch episodes. VHS tapes, on the other hand, are video recordings of episodes on tape cassettes. This enables viewers to rewatch episodes they missed during the broadcast at their own set time. In 2002, DVD or digital versatile discs became more popular. The distribution of these discs were done through the establishment of DVD rental stores. With these, binge-watching became more convenient and viewers were able to watch numerous episodes without the need of waiting on the standard televised schedules (Stoldt 9-10). Today, the emergence of new platforms in the field of mass media has greatly changed the way consumers digest content and information. Among these advancements are online streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Hulu. These streaming sites caused the expansion of “binge-watching” culture to mainstream media. Serving over 40 million customers in more than 40 countries, Netflix is hailed as the most prominent and leading online streaming platform. Established in 1997, the network’s booming success started three years after with the introduction of the Netflix monthly subscription concept. Unlike previous DVD rentals, Netflix provided a flat fee for an unlimited online access to its library without having the worry for fees on DVD shipment and return dues (Windekilde 3).
Aside from being an online streaming platform, Netflix is also known for being an online television network that produces its original content. Notable examples include their first attempt at an original series entitled “House of Cards”, and the popular 80s nostalgia horror series “Stranger Things” (Fragata 14). Its’ second competitor, Hulu, started in 2008 as a free online streaming website. Viewers are able to legally stream television series online. Originally, Hulu only earned its revenue through the means of playing advertisements in between episodes. This changed in 2010, where a premium subscription named “Hulu Plus” was introduced. Although Hulu still allowed free streaming, the features given to “free” users were limited to such an extent wherein it became a marketing bait. Consumers are lured in by the “free service” Hulu provides, when in fact most of the services offered by the site were only accessible to premium users, in this case, the users who use “Hulu Plus”. Now, only the users of Hulu Plus are able to stream and download movies and series offline on the said site for continuous viewing (Rodgers 11-13). Both Netflix and Hulu, although differing in marketing approach, are common in one thing. They enable subscribers to conveniently access an extensive library of movies and series, providing the viewer the freedom to choose the following: what to watch and when they want to watch it. These two factors can be linked as to why these online streaming platforms are so well received, and at the same time, these are also contributory factors to the increase of binge-watching behavior in the society. Firstly, viewers are more inclined to binge-watching as they are given the ability to choose the shows that they want to watch from the platforms’ extensive library. Thus, they no longer have to wait for their preferred shows, but instead they are able to watch it continuously without interruption (Carolan 14). Secondly, binge-watching is able to align with one’s viewing practices. As stated earlier, consumers opt for products that are adjustable to their time schedule. In this sense, binge-watching is seen as a more reasonable manner of time management as viewers are able to watch at their own leisure without having to comply to television schedules (Tyron 112). This satisfies the immediate need of viewers to watch a certain show unlike traditional linear telecasts, making these streaming platforms unique and desirable.
However, one must not be easily bought by the the desirability of binge-watching and the convenience of these online platforms. Binge-watching, when done excessively, also has the ability to pose a threat to the mental health of viewers. Studies show that mental health problems such as anxiety, loneliness, and depression were found to have a positive relationship with binge-watching behavior. Excessive binge-watching can also lead to addiction which can compromise the health of the individual, as the viewer would choose to binge-watch instead of sleeping. This can also affect the social relations of the excessive binge-watcher with their family, work, etc. (Wheeler 32). There are also cases wherein the relationship between these two variables is inverted, with the mental health problems (such as depression and social anxiety) causing the phenomenon of excessive binge-watching (Flayelle 33).
In addition, binge-watching has also been found to promotes sedentary behavior. Sedentary behavior is defined as an inactive lifestyle which only uses minimal energy (e. g. sitting, lying down). This type of behavior is commonly linked health problems such as being overweight and exhibiting higher rates of mortality (Prinsen 4). Aside from these possible impacts, another factor that raises concern is that these physical and psychological effects may pose a greater threat to the youth and early adults. This is due to the fact that most of the binge-watching population is within Generations Y and Z, which are the millennial generation and onwards. 60% of the viewers within these groups are regular consumers of on-demand television and spend an average of two hours watching television content on a daily basis (Matrix 123). In conclusion, understanding the history and emergence of binge-watching gives a comprehensive background of its manifestations and reason for existence. With the increasing value of time in today’s world, leisurely acts such as watching televised shows would not be practical.
The invention of the televised marathons, VHS, DVDs, online streaming sites, etc. enables viewers to enjoy watching at their own convenience. Simply put, “binge-watching” would have not existed without these advancements. It is also important to realize that even though binge-watching behavior has not been identified before the emergence of some of these technologies, its concept still existed and may have influenced the purpose of these inventions to “be invented” in the first place. This is due to the fact that these inventions are heavily influenced to satisfy the need of the consumers, even though they were unable to pinpoint what this need was actually called. Lastly, although binge-watching has been linked to negative psychological and health impacts, this does not mean that it is entirely bad. Binge-watching can also be used as a stress reliever from daily life. It is important to distinguish when binge-watching is being done excessively, as this causes adverse effects. As with all things, it is important be in moderation. One must be responsible enough as to not abuse something, and this concept can also be applied in binge-watching.
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