'I watched every episode in a single night': Have we forgotten how to enjoy TV?

Dayana Cadet has a rotation of three shows she binge-watches during a 24-hour period.

Plowing through The Office, Seinfeld and sometimes Judge Judy, the 28-year-old Toronto woman said Seinfeld, in particular, has become a daily ritual. 

“I binge-watch Seinfeld so often that I now use it as a tool to keep focused,” she said. “I’m a writer and find listening to music or new episodes of my favourite podcasts are distracting… I’ve seen Seinfeld so many times I can zone in and out as required. It’s like a funny white noise machine.”

Cadet started binge-watching television when she was 16 and can get through short-season series (eight to 12 episodes) in one or two days.

“I’ve been binge-watching for well over 10 years but I find that now, it’s even harder to stay focused,” she explained. “I often have to multitask and be on my phone scrolling through social media, texting, or playing games to keep myself stimulated while watching a show. Only very scary or very complex shows can hold my attention.”

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Cadet’s binge-watching habit isn’t uncommon.

The way we enjoy television has completely changed with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and CraveTV, but the act of binge-watching can be traced back to TV boxed sets or DVDs. While this type of binge-watching may not be as “in the moment” like it is when a streaming service drops a whole series in one day, people spend hours, days or even weeks binge-watching their favourite television series at home.

Credit: Facebook/The Office

Cathy Perron, an associate professor of film and television at Boston University, told Global News the initial release of House of Cards on Netflix in February 2013 was probably the game changer for binge-watching TV.

“It was the first time an entire season was released at the same time and it gave people the opportunity to watch all the episodes at once,” she said. “That was really the start of a trend. There were libraries of content that could be released to Netflix as complete and total series, not just one season at a time.”

She said this trend added to the viewer’s appetite to sit and watch an entire series all at once. But the shows people like Cadet binge-watch now were not meant for this type of experience.

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“Those older series were not meant to be consumed this way and the story arcs are different. There are cliffhangers at every season with the idea there would be time and interest over the summer for people to think about and get excited when the series came back.”

Hours spent binge-watching

Rohini Mukherji, 37, of Toronto watches at least two episodes of a show every day on her commute.

“Seasons vary because a show like Man like Mobeen is four 30-minute episodes, whereas Game of Thrones is obviously much longer,” she told Global News. On average she watches two to three seasons of a show per month. 

It makes my commute interesting, and also I realize I like the continuity,” she said. “Cliffhangers with a one-week wait are really not my jam. And I don’t have live TV discussions the day after an episode airs — a fact I realized when I cut the cable cord last fall.”

Jake Walters of North Carolina currently binge-watches The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, but he said on some days, he can get through a whole series in one sitting.

“I’ve had weekends where I put on an episode when I get up at 8 a.m. and don’t stop watching until 2 to 3 a .m. the next morning,” he said. “When the first season of Making a Murderer came out on Netflix, I watched every episode in a single night.”

Credit: Facebook/Making A Murderer

A 2017 survey by Deloitte found U.S. binge-watchers between the ages of 14 and 33 binged “an average of five hours in a single sitting,” Quartz reported.

Perron said watching an entire season in one go isn’t surprising, and streaming services are catering to it.

“The business model of television has changed,” she said. “Normally when somebody would watch something on a weekly basis and they were excited about it they would tell their friends… it became much more of a social experience where people consumed things at the same time at the same hour in the same context.”

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But television is still consumed in this traditional way — many series continue to have episodes aired weekly. Reality TV, sporting events, award shows and popular hits like Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale are not meant to be binged, she argued.

These days, she added, it is almost expected that viewers are watching a whole season in a short period of time. This has also brought out spoiler culture on social media, where media publications, fans, streaming services and production companies make it even more tempting to finish a series in one go.

She said promotion of a show has also changed. Years ago, networks would promote a show or shove it in between two popular shows to keep it on air, but these days, the lifespan of some shows really depends on where people drop off. You also have networks dropping shows and other networks or streaming services picking them up (think Brooklyn Nine-Nine or The Mindy Project).

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen Credit: Facebook/Game of Thrones

“It’s a tremendous amount of content we are blowing through right now and it’s very expensive content to produce… somebody has to pay for this,” she explained. “Advertising is not paying for it any longer than the subscription rates are going to go up to support this.”

Which they did. In fall 2018, Netflix Canada announced a price increase — the biggest one yet. The standard plan is now $13.99 a month, while the premium plan (which allows up to four users) hit $16.99.

CraveTV can cost up to $20 (plus tax) for additional movies and HBO, and Amazon Price Video is $79 per year, while more specialized services like Shudder (horror and thrillers) is $4.99 a month and Hayu (reality TV) is $5.99 a month.

Perron said we should all expect prices for these services to go up.

When binge-watching becomes unhealthy

Walters said his binge-watching habits can sometimes become unhealthy.

“I’m much more aware of it now but I start to think how much my life sucks compared to that show, a great example of that is Friends,” he explained. “When I’m anxious or depressed I watch Friends but I had to take a step back because I noticed I was comparing my real-world relationships to that of the show.”

For Cadet, who lives with depression and anxiety, binge-watching TV is a marker of how low she is feeling at a given time.

“I find the higher my anxiety gets, the more reluctant I am to watch anything other than my regulars like Seinfeld or The Office. But sometimes it’s a great way to just turn off your brain, enjoy, and reset.”

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Some studies have found binge-watching can be bad for your health, and the more you TV you watch, the higher the risk of dying from inflammatory-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and kidney disease.

Sarah Fogle, 34, of Atlanta, said to conquer creating unhealthy habits, she takes breaks.

A lot of times we distract ourselves with projects and other things going on, so usually a binge includes some distracted time of it playing in the background while we cook or some other activity.”

Her reasons for binge-watching, especially for old shows, is to appreciate their value.

“I love it when a favourite show that I’ve seen many times and think everything has been seen but I catch a joke or two that I never caught before. It’s kind of fun and makes me appreciate that writers on a show put in a ton of work that can be appreciated again and again.”

Do we actually enjoy TV when we binge it?

Cadet said when she is binge-watching a new show with a complex plot, sometimes she tunes out.

“I have a short attention span,” she said. “If a second season of a new show comes out, I find myself having to binge-watch the previous season just to keep up to date with what’s happening.”

Perron said it’s not surprising some people aren’t as tuned in and going forward, networks and streaming services need to alter their content to keep up with how consumers are enjoying it. It’s not about forgetting how to enjoy television, it’s about finding a new way to enjoy it.

“I look at shows like Homeland,” she explained. “If Homeland had been a regular series and dropped once a week, I don’t think the story arcs would be quite so aggressive as they have been,” she said, adding writers and directors are adapting to binge culture.

People like Walters still find themselves enjoying television this way and grasping the show’s worth.

“I have a very active imagination so when I read a book or watch a show I can usually lose myself in that world,” he said. “ like NYPD Blue, Friends, The Office, Parks and Recreation, it almost feels as though I have a stake in what’s going on even though I know what’s going to happen. “


© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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