We’ve all done it: The dishes are piling up in the sink, we really should go through the bills and the sidewalk needs shoveling, but there we are, wrapped in a Slanket and trapped in a seemingly endless re-watching of Breaking Bad. Or Battlestar Galactica. Or Dr. Who. Maybe even Columbo.
The Netflix “binge,” or more generally “binge watching,” is the new normal when it comes to how we consume television. At least according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive, which polled about 3,000 adult TV streamers in November 2013.
Based on the responses, about 1,500 reported binge watching—defined as viewing between two and six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting—and 61 percent of that group admitted to bingeing at least once a week. What’s more, 73 percent of respondents reported feeling pretty good about that; of course, Netflix commissioned the survey, so no surprise there.
More interesting is the explanation given for the rise of marathon viewing by cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken: Because of the increasingly fragmented nature of digital life—filled with sound bytes, tweets and status updates—people crave long, narrative storytelling.
"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,” McCracken stated in a Netflix press release. “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.”
That craving for drawn-out storylines has affected the kind TV being produced—with intricate, intense plots like those found in Sons of Anarchy, Netflix's original series Orange is the New Black and Game of Thrones (on HBO)—but a similar survey conducted by Harris Interactive earlier in 2013 found that more than half of binge viewers gorge themselves on older shows or past seasons of current shows.
Common sense tells us that camping out on the couch for hours—sometimes whole days—is less than healthy, but binge apologists like McCracken say the new marathon method of viewing is actually “good.” Well, in so far as it’s a very different type of watching than traditional channel surfing.
“People are watching not as couch potatoes, thoughtless, witless, uncritical. They’re not watching ‘whatever’s on,’” McCracken wrote in a December 2013 article for Forbes.com. “They are choosing.”
What’s more, he added, shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and The Wire are “dramatically better than the Dukes of Hazzard or The Rockford Files. Binge TV is not being driven by a sudden need to binge on anything. We are bingeing because we now have shows worthy of our attention.”
There you have it. Consider yourself enabled (at least until the inevitable study is released linking binge viewing to increased risk of gluteal blood clotting).