With the release of (the entire) season 2 of Netflix‘s political drama House of Cards, many U.S. television viewers are spending the week binge-watching episode after episode of this highly addictive show. (Netflix releases its original series all at once.) Binge-viewing defies the way many of us were trained to watch television. Plus, it goes against healthy living and good logic, but it’s just as satisfying as munching on potato chip after potato chip.
Perhaps it’s revenge against our parents. As small kids in Italy, we were only allowed to watch television in the afternoon during the half-hour daily, La TV dei Ragazzi (“Children’s TV”) and had to go to bed after the 9 p.m. Carosello (cluster of entertaining TV ads). As parents we use television as an electronic babysitter, making our children screen-addicted, be it large (TV set), small (computer) or portable (smartphone/tablet). Imagine, after staring at a computer screen at work for eight hours, we all go home to gorge on one episode after another of the same show, becoming the ultimate couch potatoes (literally and figuratively, considering that obesity is now affecting 35 percent of the U.S. population, 24 percent in Mexico and 23 percent in the U.K.).
It is also possible that binge-viewing is a result of better-quality television programs, technology like streaming or even (as Netflix proclaimed in a commercial) as a rejection of channel surfing. Surely, Netflix’s programming strategy has encouraged binge-viewing rapidly gaining popularity (possibly, at the detriment of its bottom line), by releasing many full season episodes at once.
Actually, binge-viewing, the new way of watching television, is already old, having been introduced in 1996 by X-Files aficionados. Lately, however, after Netflix made it one of its key attractions, binge-programming was quickly adopted by cable/satellite channels such as FX, TBS, TNT and AMC as well. Reportedly, 88 percent of Netflix users and 70 percent of Hulu Plus users have streamed three or more episodes of the same show in one day. Binge-viewing is also becoming popular with broadcast television. According to Dermot Horan of Ireland’s ETV, “We certainly run back-to-back episodes of both dramas and comedies (e.g. CSI, The Big Bang Theory). We have occasionally run three episodes in a row, but that is the exception rather than the rule. I know it is very common in Europe (e.g. Scandinavia and France) to run two or three episodes of a drama back-to-back.”
He added, “One of the reasons we can’t do it more often is we are frequently running U.S. series very soon after their premiere transmission in America and so there is only one episode to show (we run Homeland two days after it plays on Showtime).
“When it comes to classic movies, we do run them sometimes back-to-back, or more frequently a few films from the same franchise over a weekend or a holiday period. Examples would be the James Bond and Indiana Jones francises.”
Overall, 67 percent of U.S. TV viewers have binged at one time or another. Recently, I too fell victim to binge-viewing while in a Los Angeles hotel, drawn in by a marathon of The Godfather films on AMC. I skipped dinner and at one point, halfway into the third installment, after realizing that it was 1:30 a.m. and I had a wake-up call at 6 a.m., I forced myself to turn the TV set off. The most unreasonable part of all is that I had already watched the film trilogy at least three times.
I must say that to induce sleep, channel surfing is much more effective than binge-viewing.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Day 1 Daily at NATPE in Miami.