Written by: Michelle Chiang, SFU Student
Binge-watching is a term that, as recently as five years ago, might have seemed abnormal. The time commitment required to take in an entire show or series within a single night or two was something considered challenging and unusual. Now, binge-watching is entrenched within popular culture. Everyone does it. It’s normal, and often expected.
Much of the recent culture of binge-watching is thanks to the popularity of streaming giant Netflix. Compared to other streaming services, Netflix is unusual in that they maintain a large library of completed shows in their library. This concept is completely opposed to the linear system of television broadcasting that has existed for a while, where new episodes of a show come out once a week. Netflix has started putting a few weekly released shows, but they certainly don’t have the same type of appeal as the rest of its library.
While Netflix played a key role in popularizing binge-watching, the practice isn’t a new concept whatsoever. Illegal streaming sites such as TVMuse and KissCartoon have not only existed for ages, but are also widely considered a reliable way of accessing both old and new shows. People have been binge-watching their favourite series on these sites since back when watching 10 episodes of a show at once was considered weird and unnatural. Netflix simply legitimized it, and made it a standard way of watching a show.
With a large mass of people now binge-watching their favourite series online, there’s been a new shift in how we consume our media. We no longer wait for each episode of a series to come out; instead, people entire seasons of a show in one sitting. By watching like this, viewers can consume their media on a much broader level, better recognizing larger narratives within a season, rather than focusing on the smaller details of each episode.
It also allows viewers to be more conscientious. When you aggregate a TV-watching group with similar interests, they tend to work together and pick apart every detail of a show as they display it to other fans. Whether it’s about an unusual prop making a reappearance or the fact that a certain female character actually has screen time this time around, it’s exciting to be able to watch an episode and then go scream about it with people on the Internet. Taking in an entire show has become an event, different from just watching a movie.
That’s not to say it’s all sparkles and rainbows though. There are only 24 hours in a day; add that into any university student’s extremely busy schedule and something’s got to give. Why do you think so many students are so tired all the time? They’re staying up late pulling all-nighters and it certainly isn’t for studying — at least, not always. “Just one more episode!” might as well be the new student mantra.
But as with any kind of behaviour, there are always people on the extremes. There are people who never binge-watch, and there are people who will literally rope off the entire day and sit down and watch a show from start to finish. You’ll also find people in the middle — people who watch perhaps two to four episodes and call it a day. For many, that’s all the time or energy they have, but they still get a similar experience to binging just by the show being on their schedule instead of a weekly cable release.
Binge-watching is a new norm and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, but it doesn’t change the game as much as you would expect. We’ve certainly moved away from a more granular method of consuming media, but instead we get to judge content as a whole, and we have gained ease in finding people to share that experience with. It’s far from new or everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s great that it’s becoming more common.