Binge-Watching and Your Health: Is there Cause for Concern?
With season six of the wildly popular “Game of Thrones” TV show in full swing, the act of “binge-watching” is once again in the spotlight.
The modern culture trend was a hot topic for many in the weeks leading up to the premiere of the show’s (season six) first episode on April 24, 2016, placing the spotlight on not just what fans could expect but how viewers who were behind could get up to speed. But what does binge-watching have to do with a drama series based in an ancient ‘Middle-Earth’ setting?
For those who don’t know, binge-watching is the practice of viewing more than one episode of a television programme consecutively. It borrows from the common terms binge-drinking and binge-eating, which point to overindulgence in alcoholic beverages and food. As a result of its widespread practice, binge-watching earned the title of ‘word of the year’ for 2015 by the Collins English Dictionary and has been the focus of several studies in recent times.
According to a survey conducted by Netflix in 2014, most viewers described the term as watching 2 – 6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting. However, many people have confessed to watching more than six episodes of a show and it has become commonplace to
see people posting on Twitter and Facebook that they watched an entire season of a show in one day, or even a whole series. In fact, 75% of all subscribers who streamed the first season of the show “Breaking Bad” reportedly binge-watched all seven episodes in a single sitting!
As it relates to the start of the much-anticipated sixth season of “Game of Thrones”, there were a number of online publications offering instructions to newbies as to how they could consume all 50 episodes of the previous five seasons. According to one article, viewers could watch 10 hours of the show each day (each episode is one hour long) on the five days leading up to the first episode of season 6, which came out on April 24. At that rate, they could cover all 3,000 minutes and get up to speed just in time. That’s a lot of television (or laptop screen time). Whether viewers heeded that advice or not, concerns have long been raised by various health authorities and experts about the possible effects of binge-watching.
Arguments pointing to the growing acceptance of binge-watching across demographics have sought to question the legitimacy of those concerns. Meanwhile, binge-watching is happening every day in millions of homes around the world. The advent of Netflix, Hulu and other on-demand TV services, has certainly given rise to its popularity.
Netflix is often the most-blamed outlet for the widespread practice. This is due to the way it popularized online streaming of TV shows, allowing people to watch their favourite TV shows, when they wanted to, without advertisement breaks. This kind of service, which is also offered by some cable and TV networks, and other streaming apps, is a lure for cord-cutters (people who are no longer subscribing to cable) and others who have never subscribed to cable. Already, over 40 million subscribers in the U.S. use Netflix and the service streams approximately 10 billion hours of programmes each month.
Studies on the effects of binge-watching are still ongoing, but the mental and physical state of people who practise it are the main targets for research. Of particular interest is its possible link to depression and anxiety. A University of Texas study noted that binge-watching was related to depression, feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem. One of the reasons for this is that viewers who spend entire weekends binge-watching may be left with feelings of guilt and regret. Another reason is that viewers may develop an emotional connection with characters while watching continuous episodes and then feel let down when the show ends or things play out differently from what they expected.