If you wanted to catch the latest episode of your favourite TV show growing up, you had to tune in to your television at a specific time each week. You had to sit through advertisement breaks and your family members fighting for the same TV, and once the episode ended, that was it - if you missed something you just had to wait for the rerun. Nowadays, the concept of traditional TV may seem unnatural to the youth with the rise of various streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. Binge-watching has become such a normalised aspect of our modern lifestyles as consumers can now choose from a vast selection of TV shows to watch as many episodes as they want, whenever they want.
Binge-watching is defined as watching multiple episodes of a television programme in one sitting. Originally referring to TV marathons and DVD box sets, it recently experienced a huge revival in this era of streaming services. In 2013, Netflix changed the game by releasing the first season of its original series House of Cards’ episodes all at once, offering subscribers a new way to view their show. Multiple networks soon adopted the binge-release strategy, including NBC’s Aquarius and Freeform’s Beyond, while Netflix continued in its following releases, Orange Is The New Black and Daredevil. Binge-watching has only grown in popularity since then, as far as being crowned Collins Dictionary’s Word of the year 2015, and with Malaysians being the top binge-watchers in Asia.
As such, corporations have taken notice of the change in viewing habits and have optimised their platforms to capitalise on the increased consumption of content. To recommend the best shows they think you will watch, streaming services collect data about your viewing habits and preferences, from your favourite genres to your searches and viewing times. Streaming apps also invest heavily in their user interfaces to keep you hooked on for as long as possible. The homepage is an immersive experience: the main trailers play automatically, you can watch a quick preview when you hover over a show, and each thumbnail is specially chosen for you. Once you finish an episode, the next one will play automatically.
As you would imagine, staying still with your eyes glued to a screen for hours on end is not the healthiest thing in the world. Some people use binge-watching as a way to escape from reality: by immersing yourself in a fictional world, you can take your mind off assignments and deadlines for a moment. However, too much binge-watching can cause you to neglect other priorities in life. How many times have you chosen to sacrifice a couple of hours of sleep just to squeeze in a few more episodes, only to wake up the next day feeling like crap? It was also reported that binge-watchers are more likely to experience higher stress, anxiety and depression in their daily life.
Besides, some critics argue that the new format of releases may have tainted the quality of television itself. Traditional TV had self-contained episodes that could stand alone as unique pieces of entertainment, whereas modern shows can sometimes be muddled with storylines stretched thin across season-long arcs - like a movie divided into parts. Even if you start to feel bored midway through a binge, you might push through the last few episodes just to finish the season. Recently though, Netflix has been trying weekly releases with its titles Great British Bake Off and Patriot Act, while platforms like Hulu and Apple TV have been employing a three-episode premiere followed by weekly episodes for the rest of the season.
Photo by Disney+
The traditional TV format might be making a comeback in the mainstream. Earlier this year, Disney+’s Wandavision wowed both critics and viewers with its fresh concept that pushed the boundaries of Marvel Studios productions. The show followed a weekly release, and each episode was set in a different time period, paying homage to classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy and Full House. At its peak, Wandavision was the most popular TV show in the world, and each episode ended up trending on social media, with viewers posting and sharing memes and fan theories. While the buzz about other shows that released around the same time like Bridgerton and Cobra Kai fizzled out after a few weeks, Wandavision managed to create a sustained hype across two whole months.
While binge-watching can be a good way to get away, it should never come at the expense of other aspects of your life. It is important to set limits for yourself during each viewing and you should not feel pressured to keep up with every latest hit series, instead just go at your own pace.
By Jordan Lam