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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 Five: Motivations to Binge Watch


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Motivations to Binge Watch

Thus far, this text has provided context about the current television technologies and industry strategies which afford binge watching (Chapter 3) as well as how the social viewing landscape further encourages it (Chapter 4). This chapter and the next shift the focus to the user, or viewer, side of the equation. Recently, the academic literature from communication, mass media, health studies, psychology, information systems, and other fields has seen a surge in social scientific studies on various forms of binge watching. The theoretical perspectives vary, as do the methodological approaches (although focus groups and surveys are quite common). Together, these chapters aim to identify what we already know and how to move forward around two central questions: Why do people binge watch television (Chapter 5) and to what effect (Chapter 6)? These two questions have motivated most of the social scientific work on binge watching to-date, hence the number of academic theories explored here and in the closely related following chapter.

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On an individual level, at the point of decision-making and viewing, what makes a viewer opt to reward oneself or indulge in binge-watching session, or slide from watching one episode into multiple episodes in an unintentional way? We highlight two broad theoretical perspectives that provide groundwork for attempting to answer this question. These approaches are grounded in theories that share many assumptions about humans, media, and their interactions. However,...

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