Binge Viewing & 5 Insights on the Future of Story Consumption

imagesThe recent Harris study confirms that binge viewing is the new norm. They found that 62% of people watch episode after episode, right after each other.

I’m definitely one of those 62%. I’ve partaken in the lure, escape and enjoyment of diving into a beloved story world for hours on end. In fact, I watched all 75 episodes of Battlestar Gallactica while writing my masters thesis and working full time (and I don’t regret a single moment!).

Binge viewing might be new, but the instinct is not.

What is behind this “new” phenomenon? Why is this becoming the “new” trend? Should we be concerned?

From a psychological standpoint, while the technology and means of story consumption is new, the behavior of “binge viewing” is not new or unusual. We are hard wired to go towards story consumption. It is through stories that we find escape and “flow”. It is through stories that we come to understand the world around us and our selves. See article references below for supporting scholarship.

images-9Human beings have been drawn toward story since the beginning of time and across cultures. Think storytelling via cave drawings, campfires, theaters and books! How many of us are or know someone who is a “binge reader”? While they come to love holding books in their hands for hours on end, it’s not the act of holding the book that they love, it’s the consumption of story that captures their time and attention.

The same thing is true of us binge viewers, we love getting lost in stories.

Is it bad for us? Like everything else, moderation is always key. Addiction lies in the person not in their choice of substance. Storytelling and story consumption are part of what we do as human beings. With conscious consumption, binge viewing can offer us enjoyment, flow and a growing sense of self and others.

What we know about binge viewing:

  • 62% of viewers have participated in binge viewing (watching multiple episodes of a TV show in one sitting)
  • Most binge viewers are 18-39 years old
  • Households with children under 18 are more likely to be a binging family
  • 50% of viewers are binging on old shows and 40% of viewers binging on current seasons
  • Women binge because they want to find out what happens next while men binge based on what mood their in
  • Binge viewers binge using the TV more than on their computer or devices

What binge viewing & the Harris Interactive study means for the future of storytelling:

  1. Binge viewing is the future of episodic storytelling. Since it is clear that 18-39 year old audience and households with children 18 and younger are the biggest binge viewers, then the audience of the future are binge viewers.
  2. The more content creators provide current programming via binge modes (e.g. demand services or subscription based), the happier audiences will be. It’s a win–win for content creators and audiences. Right Netflix?
  3. Audiences still like to consume stories on the big screen (at least their TV screen). Therefore, the desire for quality in storytelling is still a priority.
  4. All new distribution models should allow for audiences to choose when, what and how much content they consume. The more choices, the better.
  5. Creating good story invites audiences in to invest their time in being transported. (More on that soon ….)


Article Resources:

Harris Interactive (April 8, 2013). Americans taking advantage of ability to watch TV on their own schedules: Among those doing so, majority report “binge viewing”.

Bruner, J. (1991). The narrative construction of reality. Critical Inquiry, 18(Autumn), 1-21.

Campbell, J. (1949). The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, California: New World Library.

Green, M. C., Brock, T. C., & Kaufman, G. F. (2004). Understanding media enjoyment: The role of transportation into narrative worlds. Communication Theory, 4(November), 311-327.

Herman, D. (2003). Stories as a tool for thinking. In D. Herman (Ed.), Narrative theory and the cognitive sciences. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

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