Before 1999, after a long day’s work families would scurry to the living room, snuggle up on the couch and watch their favorite movie or TV show. Although it appears not much has changed, the invention of TiVo was just the start of a new and improved way to watch television. Once the word got out that movies and TV shows could be recorded with a push of a button, a revolution began. People started recording all kinds of shows like “The Wire,” “Six Feet Under,” “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos.”
The added bonus of forwarding through commercials started an epidemic, with everyone wanting content on demand. Although this seemed to be enough to make everyone very happy, Netflix then raised the bar. In 2007, with Netflix already having more than four million members, it introduced streaming. Now Netflix has roughly 50 million members globally. There’s a whole new generation who now binge-watch movies and TV shows and call it Netflixing. It is a trend that has taken over, and it is here to stay.
All of these new inventions have produced a binge-watching frenzy. Children, teenagers, college students, couples, parents, grandparents and everyone else are addicted to the luxuries of Netflix and the DVR. There are ample websites with reviews for the best shows to binge-watch. Garrett Blue, a husband and extreme TV lover, is currently watching more than 15 TV shows with his wife Dorothy. A few of these shows are “Louie,” “Gotham,” “Face-Off,” “Suits,” plus her favorite “Project Runway” and his favorite at the moment, “The Walking Dead.” Blue says they watch between three and four hours each day after work and more on Sundays.
“It would be more if I were home, but I’m not,” Blue said with a disappointed tone.
It doesn’t seem like that would be a problem, but when added up, it’s between 25 and 30 hours a week of sitting and staring at a screen. This can quickly cause physical health issues and problems in other areas of your life if not balanced out correctly. Dr. Barry Smith, a professor in the Department of Communication at Mississippi University for Women, is well aware of the negative effects, but says he still enjoys binge-watching occasionally. He said it began when movie and TV studios started releasing box sets of DVDs. He used the example of the show “Lost,” which he explained was difficult to keep up with week-to-week and was better enjoyed when watched in a series of episodes. This is common for many television shows.
“When Netflix came along, there was already at least some small percentage of the TV-watching public that had experienced binge-watching, and the availability of Netflix on your computer, your tablet, your phone or wherever you are made people comfortable with watching TV ─ or watching content, rather ─ whenever and wherever,” Smith said. “So, as Netflix has grown more popular, I think it has become even more common to binge-watch, and Netflix knows that. That’s why when Netflix produces an original series, they usually will go ahead and drop the whole season at one time, because they know people will go ahead and watch the whole season.”
Sarah Coleman, a mother and subscriber of Netflix and Hulu, enjoys watching her commercial-free shows a few hours a day. She loves avoiding the delay and cliffhangers at the end of episodes. She said it’s one of the main reasons she does it. Although it’s pretty convenient to dodge the waiting period, she explained how it’s also a curse.
“Since I don’t have to wait a week for the next episode, I sometimes can’t make myself turn it off after just one. I want to find out what happens next, so it makes it impossible to just watch one episode,” Coleman said.
Netflix makes it completely effortless to remain watching the marathon by continuing to the next episode for you. People get wrapped up and would just rather sit there and watch another episode. This is the primary reason why there are many studies about the negative effects of binge-watching. Obesity and heart disease are some well-known health risks for remaining sedentary for long periods of time. People tend to start cutting out old hobbies, activities or responsibilities because they now feel those activities are less important than watching another episode.
“I would say I used to exercise more before I started binge-watching. I also used to do crafts, like painting. Here recently, I find myself not doing either one of those. Sometimes I multitask, though, like doing homework while watching a show or folding laundry,” Coleman said.
Researchers at University of Texas in Austin have conducted studies that found binge-watching was linked to depression and loneliness.
“From a media effects standpoint, people who binge-watch a lot of times do it alone. There are some people who get together with friends, but a lot of people do binge-watch TV alone, and when they do that, it sometimes becomes a substitute for social interaction,” Smith explained.
Binge-watching is significant bonding time for Blue and his wife. She has a few health issues which prevent her from a lot of physical activity, so this gives them an activity to do together in their home. He enjoys discussing the shows with friends but also sees the downside of everyone watching the episodes at their own paces.
“Watching TV is more social now than it used to be. You have to stay away from Facebook until the season is over. A main character died on last week’s episode of “The Walking Dead.” He’s been there since the first episode, and he died. Well, a lot of people seen it on Facebook before they got to watch the show. They were mad. I would be mad,” Blue said.
Netflixing and binge-watching can be harmful with long-term effects, but there are a few short-term positive effects such as stress relief. Coleman and Blue both said that when they sit down to binge-watch, they like to get their minds off their lives and immerse themselves in a story.
“Enjoyment of the actual content can be more enjoyable to sit down and watch several episodes at one time, versus watching one and waiting the traditional week to see another episode,” Smith explained. “Just because you get into a story, and then you don’t want to leave that story, and you don’t want to leave those characters behind. TV episodes usually have some kind of cliffhanger at the end of the episode. There’s some plot point that’s unresolved, so if you go ahead and watch several episodes at once, you go ahead and resolve that plot point and move on. I think people do find that enjoyable.”
Luckily, there are ways to keep binge-watching your favorite TV shows and avoid the long-term effects. Limiting watching to a few hours a day mixed with some form of exercise would allow you to keep your health balanced, so you can veg out on the couch worry-free.