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Binge Watching

Motivations and Implications of Our Changing Viewing Behaviors

Bridget Rubenking and Cheryl Campanella Bracken

This book situates binge watching as one of several new television viewing behaviors which collectively contribute to a fundamental change in the way we view television today. Simply put, binge watching changes, or has the potential to change, everything: Engagement, immersion, attention to content and other devices, identification with characters and social engagement with fellow viewers, as well as content choices, and cable and over-the-top (OTT) subscription rates. Binge watching has quickly become a new norm in television viewing across audiences.

Binge Watching reviews historically significant advancements in the television industry and in technology that better enable binge watching, such as timeshifting, increasing quantity and (sometimes) quality of content, as well as distribution strategies and suggestions algorithms employed by OTT providers. We situate binge watching as human-centered, that is, driven by innate human needs and wants, such as a desire to consume well-constructed stories and to connect with others. We also review the current state of academic binge watching research—from motives and habituation to the (over-pathologizing) addiction-based studies. This text concludes with a synopsis of the central arguments made and identifies several areas for future research.

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Chapter One: Introduction: A Look at Binge Watching


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Introduction: A Look at Binge Watching

The term “binge watching” is used casually among television viewers, interested industry parties, and academics to denote longer viewing sessions of sequential television episodes, often via streaming services. A simple google search for “best shows to binge watch” yields dozens, if not hundreds, of articles and listicles of suggestions of what to binge watch this weekend depending on your mood, the season, or the genre and streaming service of one’s choosing. Beyond being a buzz word in popular culture, binge watching and related new viewing patterns are quickly replacing traditional appointment viewing and cutting into basic timeshifted television viewing. Industry reports and empirical academic articles present a clear picture: A convincing majority of television viewers are binge watchers. In 2013, over 60% of Netflix subscribers reported regularly binge watching, per Netflix (West, 2014). This was before Netflix became available in over 200 additional countries by 2016. Netflix currently has 125 million worldwide subscribers, 56.7 million of which are based in the United States (Richter, 2018). For many, Netflix is nearly synonymous with binge watching (Fiegerman, 2017; Matrix, 2014), and the impact of Netflix and other streaming services cannot be underscored in the role they play in enabling these new viewing behaviors.

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A worldwide report by Ericsson Consumer Labs (2015) reveals approximately three-quarters of individuals with access to any streaming service or video on-demand report binge watching. And across...

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