Since the birth of streaming services and the subsequent rapidity with which they have become mainstream, they’ve ushered in an entirely novel way of watching TV and movies: binge watching.
TV and movie fans, parents, teachers, and television producers themselves all foster a complicated relationship with binge watching. Since its inception, it has maintained widespread popularity, and it has produced widespread controversy.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the rise of binge watching has completely altered the way that television shows are created and consumed, and made home theater seating as important for consuming short-form television as for feature-length movies. So if you’re ready to find out the best ways to binge watch, read on.
What is Binge Watching?
The term “binge watching” refers to watching many episodes in a row of a single television or movie series. Before streaming services entered the picture, binge watching typically only occurred when a network would run a marathon, or individuals purchased or rented seasons of TV shows or movies.
For the most part, binge watching was the exception and not the norm. It often required planning on the part of the viewer, and given the costs and energy required to make it happen, it was fairly rare.
The early 2000s saw the climax (and then subsequent demise) of the DVD and VHS rental business model. Fledgling Netflix offered itself to Blockbuster for acquisition in 2000; Blockbuster declined. In 2004, Blockbuster launched an online platform for DVD rentals to compete with Netflix.
Then, in 2006, Amazon released videos on demand via their service Amazon Unbox. For the first time, consumers could watch what they wanted when they wanted, without the restraints of the traditional rental model.
In 2007, Netflix announced its streaming service, and the next year Hulu entered the streaming market as well. This changed everything. Consumers adopted streaming services over DVD rentals in droves. The ease of use, and the low subscription cost gave the service an unbeatable advantage over the cost and hassle of DVD rentals.
The First Netflix Binge
Netflix has earned its status as the homeland for binge watchers because of multiple strategic moves it made to secure industry dominance. TV networks have traditionally broadcast marathons around holidays, with advertisements interjected between episodes. The subscription-based streaming model cut out advertisements and enabled users to pause TV shows, adding flexibility and control while cutting down significantly on the time investment required to get through serial programs.
Beyond the fact that binge watching is easy to do, Netflix has mastered creating content that virtually anyone will find binge worthy.
They’re able to collect massive amounts of data about consumer viewing preferences. That allows them to offer full seasons immediately and they can create content that appeals to a diverse array of audiences, even those with tastes that are less mainstream. Thus, they’ve managed to win the loyalty of an impressively diverse set of viewers.
Despite the fact that Netflix coined the term, they’re now distancing themselves from it. Netflix reportedly has told actors in their originals not to use the term “binge watching” when doing press.
Thus, even for the streaming giant, the phrase has lost some of its original luster.
Binge Watching Survival: Tips and Tricks to Upgrade Your Bingeing Habits
One survey found that Netflix viewers typically watch between 2 to 6 shows in a single sitting. Additionally, an internal study at Netflix found that the majority of viewers would rather binge watch a show than take their time with it. Which means even those who struggle with the concept of binge watching, are binge watching.
Benefits of Binge Watching
Watching the shows we love over and over again produces dopamine in our brains. Every episode we watch we receive a dopamine hit that communicates, “This feels good. Do it again!” Thus, it’s a legitimate way to experience pleasure.
Here are some tips to binge watch like a pro:
Download: That’s right, select titles on Netflix can be downloaded (during internet connectivity) on the app so that you can enjoy them wherever you and your tablet or phone find yourselves.
Flix Assist: The Chrome extension Flix Assist prevents Netflix from judgmentally asking you if you’re still watching.
Sit comfortably: To make sure you’re physically comfortable the entire time you’re binging, utilize ergonomics in your home theater seating.
Snack well: A key element of binging without feeling awful afterwards, is to snack well. Pass on the chips and dip, and instead pick veggies with a greek yogurt ranch dip or fruit with a vanilla yogurt dip.
Skip the buffering: Whether you’re using Hulu or Netflix, you can take some steps to cut down on the amount of time you spend waiting for your video to buffer. It’s important to make sure all background downloads are paused, and that you’ve recently cleared your cache and cookies. Additionally, your internet speed, the popularity of the time you choose to stream, and the size of the buffer you allow to load before viewing matter.
Get help choosing: There are websites designed to help viewers choose their new, binge worthy favorites, and there are ways you can search genres and subgenres in the interest of getting more tailored results.
Risks and Downsides to Binge Watching
It’s important to note that there can be too much of a good thing, even when binge watching. And really, this is unlikely to come as a surprise. There’s something about it that most of us intuitively recognize as problematic.
Indeed, studies have shown binge watching impacts our ability to sleep well, so much so that it can lead to insomnia and the plethora of issues that accompany it. This can include things like weakened immune systems and lower cognitive abilities.
Plus, a lot of sitting, especially in non-ergonomic ways, is not good for your health. Epidemiologist Steven Blair — who studies the connection between physical activity and health — told NPR that people who sit more have less desirable levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, and waist size, and that increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and a number of health problems.
Additionally, studies have also demonstrated that there is a connection between television viewing and mindless consumption of food. We get distracted by what we’re watching and we keep eating, even if we’re not actually hungry.
Not only that, there again, is the fact that Netflix itself is no longer using the term “binge watching”.
Former Netflix employee and current marketing and brand expert Barry Enderwick wrote for Medium that, since streaming has become so mainstream, the shift likely comes from a refocus on Netflix’s part: quantity isn’t novel anymore, and thus the emphasis needs to return to quality over quantity.
Best TV Shows to Binge Watch
Given the fact that there are now so many streaming options it can be difficult to decide where to start, and at worst it can be completely overwhelming. The vast majority of us have experienced the endless scrolling that often occurs when we finish binging one series and need to find a new show to take its place.
Below you’ll find some tried and true staples that have kept audiences binging and re-binging.
In its five year run “Breaking Bad” earned itself everything from Emmys and Golden Globes to Critic’s Choice Awards and even a couple of Peabody’s. The plot, featuring an unassuming science teacher who begins selling meth to pay for the bills brought on by his terminal cancer is engaging in and of itself, but paired with the actors who carry the story: it’s dynamite. You can binge “Breaking Bad” to your heart’s content on Netflix.
For lovers of mockumentaries, “Documentary Now” parodies some of the best-loved documentaries and well-established documentary film styles. It is the brainchild of some of comedy’s leading men including: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live”. It is often weird, and always hilarious. For your binge-worthy dose of comic relief, look for “Documentary Now” on Netflix.
Cillian Murphy is arguably one of the present day’s most underrated actors, and Murphy does his best work leading the “Peaky Blinders”. The Peaky Blinders are a street gang located in Birmingham, England between the first and second world wars. This show has received many, well-deserved nods for its cinematography. Their pursuit of power and wealth lay the groundwork for a show that’s difficult to hit pause on. Thankfully, every season is on Netflix.
While “Seinfeld” self-dubbed itself “A show about nothing”, it is one of the most influential sitcoms of all time. The impact its nine seasons had on 90’s culture is still reverberating through modern society twenty years later. In fact, publications from Entertainment Weekly to The Rolling Stones have hailed it one of the best TV shows of all time. Hulu is home to every season, allowing its legacy to continue on.
Best Movie Series to Binge Watch
If you’re ready to commit to some serious next-level binge-watching, then skip the TV series and go straight for some of Hollywood’s best franchises. There’s nothing quite like deciding to watch a movie series from start to finish. It’s a surefire way to get the most entertainment out of your day — and probably your night as well — and to become closely acquainted with films you otherwise would never know so well.
Unfortunately, none of the popular streaming services offer unlimited access to any of these full series. Nonetheless, they can be rented via streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and YouTube.
We would forfeit all credibility if Star Wars was not included on our list. The original series began in the late 1970s and continued on through the 80’s. All first eight films were nominated for Academy Awards, and the films are the second highest grossing series of all time. There have been multiple theatrical series spin-offs through the years and for good reason, Star Wars is a pop culture phenomenon.
The Jason Bourne series, starring Matt Damon, is action of a different breed. When Bourne, a CIA assassin, loses his memory, there’s hell to pay for the people responsible. The Bourne movies are based on three novels by Doug Liman, and all are notable for their use of real stunt work. Later, in 2012 there was an addition to the series starring Jeremy Renner, and in 2016 Damon came back for the fifth installment.
Based on the beloved fantasy novels, the Harry Potter franchise stretches the seven novels into eight films. While the books and films alike are certainly geared towards the young adult audience, the magic of the content makes it worthy for viewers of any age. However, it should be noted that the films grow darker and more mature alongside their audiences. All of them were received well by critics and audiences alike.
A theme park populated by once extinct dinosaurs? What could possibly go wrong? To the delight of fans everywhere: pretty much everything. In ‘93, ‘97, and ‘01 the first three in the series were released. Then in 2015 the fourth movie was released and became the first film to gross over $500 million during its opening weekend. The fifth was also a hit, and a sixth is slated for a 2021 release.
The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings film series is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels of the same name. While a movie could never convey every notable plot point from novels as dense and clever as Tolkien’s, these films come commendably close. Each film in the series had a long production time and an impressive budget, and it paid off. The films were loved by both critics and audiences and brought in massive financial profits and many award nominations. You can get swept along in an adventure to Middle Earth without ever leaving your home theater.
There you have it: a crash course in all things binge watching! It’s a trend that has completely changed the way we consume shows and movies. It’s also shifted the way shows are written and produced, given the fact their makers understand that they’ll likely be watched via binge watching.
It’s likely that this trend isn’t going anywhere in the near future, and thus there’s value in understanding how it can impact you so that all your future binging is fun, safe, and comfortable.