‘Selfies’ may have been the official new word of 2013, but ‘binge-watching’ was a runner up for a reason.

A survey conducted online on behalf of Netflix among nearly 1,500 TV streamers — online US adults who stream TV shows at least once a week — found that binge watching is a widespread behavior among this group, with 61% binge watching regularly.

Binge watching TV is the new normal

If you’re going to binge, watching TV & movies is the way to go

If the common perception of binge watching was a weekend-long, pajama-wearing marathon of TV viewing, survey respondents don’t see it that way.

A majority (73%) defined binge watching as watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting. And there’s no guilt in it. Nearly three quarters of TV streamers (73%) say they have positive feelings towards binge streaming TV.

To better understand why binge watching has become such a cultural phenomenon, Netflix worked with cultural anthropologist, Grant McCracken, to trace the evolution of binge watching and more importantly, to explore how and why binge watching television is resonating with today’s viewers. McCracken went into the living rooms of several TV viewers across the United States and Canada to explore their changing TV behaviors.

A ‘perfect storm’ led to binge watching

“I found that binge watching has really taken off due to a perfect storm of better TV, our current economic climate and the digital explosion of the last few years,” said Grant McCracken, cultural anthropologist. “But this TV watcher is different, the couch potato has awoken. And now that services like Netflix have given consumers control over their TV viewing, they have declared a new way to watch.”

>> The most energy-efficient way to watch movies? Stream on

“Our viewing data shows that the majority of streamers would actually prefer to have a whole season of a show available to watch at their own pace,” said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix. “Netflix has pioneered audience choice in programming and has helped free consumers from the limitations of linear television. Our own original series are created for multi-episodic viewing, lining up the content with new norms of viewer control for the first time.”

McCracken believes our digital lifestyle, where storytelling is often reduced to bite-sized, 140 character conversations, leaves us craving the kind of long narrative of storytelling in today’s great TV shows. “TV viewers are no longer zoning out as a way to forget about their day, they are tuning in, on their own schedule, to a different world. Getting immersed in multiple episodes or even multiple seasons of a show over a few weeks is a new kind of escapism that is especially welcomed today,” he added.

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TV streamers overwhelmingly agreed. 76% of TV streamers say watching multiple episodes of a great TV show is a welcome refuge from their busy lives. 79% said watching several episodes of their favorite shows at once actually makes the shows more enjoyable. And three-quarters (76%) also say streaming TV shows on their own schedule is their preferred way to watch them.

McCracken found a new trend emerging he characterizes as, “In case of emergency, break glass.” TV streamers are deciding to save shows to watch for a later date. While McCracken observed this in his research, the survey confirmed that more than one third (37%) of TV streamers said they prefer to “save” new TV series or seasons to stream at a later date.

Binge watching isn’t necessarily a solitary experience

Among those who ever stream multiple episodes of a TV series in a row, more than one-third (38%) most like to do so solo; however, a combined 51% prefer to watch with at least one other person. 39% of TV streamers who prefer to “save” TV shows to watch at a later date choose to stream saved series or seasons when the person they want to watch with is available.

Some of the most popular television streaming services include Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Go and, of course, Netflix.


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About: This survey was conducted online within the United States between November 25 and 27, 2013 among 3,078 adults aged 18 and older, of whom 1,496 stream TV shows at least once a week, by Harris Interactive on behalf of Netflix via its Quick Query omnibus product. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

Original publication date: Dec. 13, 2013

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