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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 Six: Implications of Binge Watching


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Implications of Binge Watching

The previous chapter discussed the largely academic and theoretical work that has gone into asking the obvious yet essential question, what motivates people to binge watch? It is, of course, a variation of a question that arises for academics and industry insiders alike whenever a new media technology or mode of media consumption becomes widely adopted or adopted by a desirable media audience. People are watching television in a fundamentally different way. It is logical to ask why, and to follow up with asking how this new way, or mode, of viewing effects downstream outcomes. People are binge watching. How does this way of viewing influence: Future viewing choices and preferences? Enjoyment? Entertainment? Advertising effectiveness? Attitude change? Cable subscription rates? Streaming options? Do extended viewing sessions impact well-being, health, and sleep patterns? Does this new mode of viewing favor some industry players over others? These are culturally – and industry – relevant questions that empirical work and theory can work toward answering.

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At the individual level, the pre-binging and post-binging framing of these “motives” and “outcomes” is relatively arbitrary, as they reinforce one another over time. The same concepts are studied as both motive and outcome – involvement, discussed below for example, is both heightened by binge watching and a motive underlying binge-watching behavior. This makes conceptualization – and operationalization – murky. The communication literature can still often be reduced to Lasswell’s standard “Who says...

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