Don’t feel guilty after binge-watching TV: people actually plan it

Binge-watching might seem impulsive and hedonistic – certainly not the kind of behavior one would usually be proud of. However, a new study has surprisingly found that people usually tend to carefully plan their binges in advance.

For streaming giants, desperate to see through the crowded market and add ever more subscribers, new research from the University of California-San Diego’s Rady School of Management and School of Global Policy and Strategy is extremely valuable.

First, the study shows that viewers prefer to binge on more sequential and connected content – shows that have an overarching narrative, such as Stranger Things, Succession, or The Handmaid’s Tale.

That means that companies willing to get ahead in the game and avoid canceling so many shows should try to strategically invest in specifically this type of programming – or, of course, they could at least frame content as more connected and, thus, more bingeable.

How true are the findings in real life, though? Cybernews has reached out to a bunch of Americans and asked whether and how they binge-watch their favorite shows.

It’s not a failure of self-control

The study, a draft copy of which was sent to Cybernews, is named “Planning-to-Binge: Time Allocation for Future Media Consumption”, and reveals that binge-watching TV is actually a pretty common activity planned out by viewers.

“We find that the notion of a show being so interesting that it just sucks people in and they can’t pull away is not the whole story,” said study coauthor Uma Karmarkar, assistant professor of marketing and innovation at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management and School of Global Policy and Strategy.

“Binge-watching can have a negative connotation, like binge-eating or binge-drinking. It is generally seen as impulsive, maybe problematic, but certainly very indulgent. However, media consumption is more complex. Binge-watching is not always about a failure of self-control; it can also be a thoughtful preference and planned behavior.”

As aforementioned, shows with an overarching narrative are held to be more bingeable by consumers. Series with more or less independent story lines in each episode such as Criminal Minds seem harder to watch in one go.

In the case of award-winning and mind-bending shows like Black Mirror, it’s probably better to not even try binge-watching it as the experience suffers when one jumps from one story to another much too quickly.

People binge-watch shows with an overarching narrative more. Image by Cybernews.

It’s not only drama, either. The authors of the study find that documentary series – if they have a consecutive story line – can be just as bingeable as fictional series.

“Viewing platforms could launch consumer surveys to get a sense for how likely a viewer would be to plan their schedule around binging a certain show,” Karmarkar said.

“This is important because streaming media companies don’t necessarily only want you to binge-watch on their platform. It could be beneficial for companies to want some of their content to be more bingeable and other content to be more spread out.”

However, research also indicates that shows like The Handmaid’s Tale or Westworld, whose episodes were originally released weekly, are considered just as highly bingeable as shows whose entire seasons are made available at once.

That means viewers actually take care to wait until a larger batch of episodes are available and avoid spoilers on social media in the meantime.

Relax, unwind, and treat yourself

The study says that with the recent proliferation of streaming media, there is mounting evidence that consumers plan aggregated consumption of content ahead of time.

For example, the website calculates the number of hours, days, or even weeks that it might take to continuously binge every episode of a TV series, presumably to allow individuals to set that time aside for this purpose.

For example, it would take five days to watch every episode of a hit TV show Lost. For Stranger Things, you’d need to set aside one day and 10 hours. Obviously, headlines like “Best Shows to Binge” are also prevalent in the media.

Viewers whom Cybernews spoke to seem to have no problem with binge-watching TV. Everyone has different preferences, Adam Rangotis, an expert in forensic psychology, said.

“It’s common to feel guilty after a binge-watching session. However, it should be noted that there’s nothing wrong with watching multiple episodes of a show or series in one sitting if it makes you happy. After all, it’s okay to treat yourself,” Rangotis told Cybernews.

Allocating time for your binges is easier if you’re a freelancer and make your own schedule. Work goals and tasks are still out there, though.

“I don't feel guilty when I binge-watch. I think it's a great way to relax and unwind after a long day. However, I do try to be mindful of how much time I'm spending binge-watching and make sure that it's not interfering with my other commitments,” said Shawn Davies, founder of Digital Connect Mag."

"I used to watch series in long binges and it often left me feeling unproductive and guilty. I realized this wasn't the best way for me to engage with the content I love."

Juliet Dreamhunter, an AI and productivity consultant.

To some, like Nikita Sherbina, a marketing manager from Seattle, setting time aside for binge-watching helps alleviate guilt: “By planning ahead, individuals can indulge in their chosen activities guilt-free, knowing they have allocated dedicated time for enjoyment.”

Another marketing specialist Mirna Vuksan simply doesn’t like to be interrupted while binge-watching so she makes sure she has done everything she needed to do so that she could fully commit to enjoying whatever she’s decided to watch.

Basically, turning on Max (known as HBO Max until recently) and diving into a long marathon of watching, say, Succession is a kind of a well deserved treat.

“Before, I used to watch series in long binges and it often left me feeling unproductive and guilty. I realized this wasn't the best way for me to engage with the content I love. So, I started changing things up a bit. I became more disciplined and began to see my Netflix time as a well-earned reward rather than an escape,” Juliet Dreamhunter, an AI and productivity consultant, told Cybernews.

Variety of choices

Royal Hernandez, founder of StarAndLink, a website for Starlink enthusiasts, stressed that he appreciated watching shows that have a more connected structure with an overarching storyline.

He named serialized dramas, scary thrillers, and thought-provoking documentaries as his go-to picks for binge-watching.

However, others like their variety. Sumit Jain, founder of Scoopbyte, a website dedicated to exploring the latest developments in tech and entertainment, also finds pleasure in watching standalone episodes or simply lighter content.

“I do like content that doesn't necessarily require a continuous commitment. This allows me to enjoy shorter bursts of entertainment or explore different genres. Ultimately, it depends on my mood and the specific type of viewing experience I'm seeking at any given time,” said Jane.

Eva Keller who is self-employed and works from home has chosen another way – she simply has streaming services on in the background while she’s working. Multitasking is Keller’s way of admitting that her attention span is lacking.

“I've found I don't really have the attention span to just sit and watch something without doing something on my phone or computer or eating, unless it's at the end of the day and I truly don't have any other work that needs to get done,” Keller told Cybernews.

Truth to be told, the authors of the study admit themselves that the new research has limitations. “While our data related to allocating time in advance argues against the impulsive mechanisms often associated with binging in the moment, the exact mechanisms underlying planning-to-binge itself remain unclear,” the paper says.

Besides, streaming companies – maybe except Netflix – still find success in releasing episodes of sequential shows weekly rather than streaming entire seasons at once.

The impact of such anticipated enjoyment can definitely be positive as illustrated by HBO’s drama miniseries Big Little Lies when momentum was clearly generated through online buzz and positive word-of mouth.

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