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Netflix: Binge watching is the new normal

December 16, 2013

The Killing on Netflix
The Killing on Netflix

Although ‘Selfies’ may be the official new word of 2013, a recent survey conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Netflix suggests that ‘Binge-Watching’ was a runner up for a reason.

Among nearly 1,500 TV streamers (online US adults who stream TV shows at least once a week) the survey found that binge watching is a widespread behaviour among this group, with 61 per cent binge watching regularly.

According to Harris Interactive, if the common perception of binge watching was a weekend-long, pyjama-wearing marathon of TV viewing, survey respondents don’t see it that way. A majority (73 per cent) defined binge watching as watching between two and six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting. And there’s no guilt in it. Nearly three quarters of TV streamers (73 per cent) 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 behaviours.

“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 McCracken. “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.”

“Our viewing data shows that the majority of streamers would actually prefer to have a whole season of 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.

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

McCracken found a new trend emerging he characterises 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 per cent) of TV streamers said they prefer to “save” new TV series or seasons to stream at a later date.

Harris Interactive found that 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 per cent) most like to do so solo; however, a combined 51 per cent prefer to watch with at least one other person.
  • 39 per cent 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.

Additional survey findings include:

  • 76 per cent of TV streamers say watching multiple episodes of a great TV show is a welcome refuge from their busy lives.
  • 65 per cent of TV streamers said that if they took a digital time out, they would still want to watch TV.
  • 80 per cent of TV streamers say they would rather stream a good TV show than read a friend’s social media posts.


Categories: Articles, Consumer Behaviour, OTT, OTT, Research