The Newest Trend: Binge Television Watching


netflix-logoIt’s the newest trend. All your friends are doing it. Some say it’s hazardous to your health, but you don’t care. It feels good. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t stop hitting that “Play Next Episode” button.
Television binging is quite addicting to us millennials, those born between the years 1980 and 2001, and television producers are acutely aware of it.
“We know that our audience is really into binge-watching. So they’ll watch multiple episodes in a row,” said Kent Reese, who runs scheduling and marketing for the channel Pivot, which specifically targets millennials.
The night of the channel’s launch, Pivot released six episodes in a row of their show “Please Like Me,” which is “often described as a gay, Australian version of ‘Girls’,” according to NPR interviewer Neda Ulaby.
“This is our opportunity, through our programming, to express back to them that we get it, and that we are listening; and that we want them to consume content from us in the same way they’re doing it in other places,” said Reese in his interview with Ulaby.
It’s obvious what the “other places” are. David Thorburn, an MIT professor who studies media in transition, says that his students won’t watch Pivot because they probably don’t own TVs, or even pay for cable.
They get their entertainment through Netflix or Hulu on their phone or computer.
“Maybe they should just look to the new technologies, and stop pretending that the older one will be helpful to them,” said Thorburn.
But before we look ahead, let’s trace the TV binge back to its origins with, arguably, the first TV show to garner a cult following. The Sopranos.
As millennials, many of us probably don’t remember when this show first aired in 1999, but our parents’ generation loved it.
Since then, “TV viewers have fallen hard for the genre that Vincent Canby once dubbed the ‘megamovie’,”said Virginia Heffernan, writer for Yahoo News.
Megamovie is not an exaggeration in the slightest. TV as we know it has undergone a renaissance, rebirthed with larger budgets, creative writing and more.
“I think right now, television is having its second Golden Age,” Rob Reiner said in his interview for “Sunday Morning.”
“I mean, back in the 50s, that was the first time, the birth of television. And right now, there are things happening on television that are far beyond anything that you see even in movies.”
Those Hollywood “rejects” have found refuge on the silver screen and have become our beloved, binge-worthy shows.
TV has grown up, according to “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston. And we love our new mature shows.
Hulu1So much so that it seems that we form relationships with our binge shows.
Like Maggie Edinger, 26, who “is happy and content in her crime-fighting bubble” with “Law & Order”, said Leanne Italie in her article “How Binge-Watching Is Changing TV: Viewers Date Their Shows.”
Todd Yellin, VP of product innovations at Netflix, admits to “creat[ing] matches, just like they are. And…creat[ing] love, just like they do,” in Italie’s article. The “they” are dating websites. And Yellin’s version of marriage? “When [viewers] get really hooked on a great TV show on Netflix.”
There may even be scientific evidence to why we binge. Dr. Laura Berman, a sex and relationship expert, explains that, in a new relationship, our dopamine, or addiction, centers are “firing like crazy.”
This influx of dopamine may be why we derive so much pleasure from settling down with a hot cup of cocoa and our newest on-screen sweetheart.
But while we’re settling down, our brains don’t turn off. In fact, argues Heffernan, “you turn critic, leaning into a laptop, popping on Twitter, neurons firing, racing to make original connections and anticipate themes and plot.”
The anticipation for the next episode, the next scene, the next witty line keeps us alert and invested. Heffernan even offers a suggestion to “synchronize binge TV” with a friend. Getting on that emotional rollercoaster with someone by your side to gush and freak out to makes the ride all the more exhilarating. And once it’s all over, you’ll be itching for your next fix of quality television.