How People Indulge in Binge-Watching

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 13 2014 3:23 PM

I Like to Binge-Watch

79010830-the-shows-poster-is-seen-at-the-premiere-of-amcs
Breaking Bad helped propel binge-watching.

Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

The idea of “binge-watching” television shows has grown from a pastime for the Internet-savvy minority to a full-blown cultural phenomenon. More than three-quarters of online video watchers surveyed in a recent Slate/SurveyMonkey poll said they have binge-watched a TV show With growing fanaticism surrounding serial dramas like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Scandal, Homeland, and Boardwalk Empire has been compounded by how readily stream-able TV shows are.

And it’s not limited to network shows anymore: Netflix and Amazon have jumped into the mix with original programming like Orange Is the New Black and Alpha House. Even President Obama has admitted to being a fan of the Netflix show House of Cards, whose second season premieres on Valentine’s Day. At a meeting in December, he told Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, “I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient.”

How has the availability of streaming services changed the way we watch TV shows today? The poll found that people think of binge-watching as more of an engaging experience than other types of media consumption. (Information on respondents is available here. More information about SurveyMonkey Audience is here.)

Advertisement

Respondents also said they prefer the endurance test that binge-watching offers—most preferred watching hour-long dramas more than shorter programs. Binge-watchers are also discerning viewers. High production quality was the reason most people—64 percent of respondents—would binge-watch a show. This makes sense because, as Alex Soojung-Kim Pang argues, binge-watching lends itself to more in-depth discussions of story arcs and character development.

People were more split on how much attention they paid when bingeing on a show. Fully 57 percent said they felt “somewhat” or “much more focused” when binge-watching, while 31 percent said they felt about the same. And 68 percent of respondents said they focused more when binge-watching versus watching a YouTube video.

FT-Binge watching-Chart_1

Chart by SurveyMonkey

This is a TV-centric phenomenon. Fifty-seven percent respondents said they do binge on movies or music, but 51 percent said they don’t binge on other forms of media at all. Viewers also said they found binge-watching to be a more engaging experience than other video-watching methods—58 percent pay more attention to shows when they’re binge-watching, while 32 percent say they pay about the same amount of attention.

FT-Binge watching-Chart_4

Chart by SurveyMonkey

And the audience isn’t just college students watching Keeping up With the Kardashians in their dorm rooms—most viewers said they tend to binge-watch shows in their living rooms, on an actual television set (for college students with neither living rooms nor televisions, though, there’s always the laptop-in-bed dynamic.)

The most popular binge-watched show was Breaking Bad, followed by Orange Is the New Black, Dexter, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones. That’s good news for Netflix, AMC, and HBO, which are all coming back with new seasons of their signature shows.

While binge-watching may be a boon to networks and streaming services, it’s bad news for another industry: advertising. Most respondents said they enjoy having the ability to mute or fast-forward through commercials when binge-watching, as opposed to waiting them out when watching a show live.

Even though most respondents said they pay more attention while binge-watching, they also admitted to multitasking during a show: doing homework, knitting, checking Facebook, analyzing the cast’s IMDB pages, breastfeeding, and generally putzing around the house.

FT-Binge watching-Chart_3

Chart by SurveyMonkey

But is there any real difference between binge-watching a specific TV show and garden-variety channel surfing? Most respondents said yes. “Binge watching is intentional and planned,” one viewer said. “Channel surfing is just boredom.”

Respondents also viewed binge-watching as a more constructive activity than flipping through channels. “It's an event instead of an accident,” one respondent said. “Binge-watching is an activity, where the other is a waste of time,” said another. But while we may find binge-watching to be a more immersive, stimulating experience, the utilitarian qualities are basically the same. “The difference is in the intent,” one viewer commented, “but it's still ‘watching lots of television.’ ”

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 5:47 PM California Gov. Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrant for Police Surveillance Drones
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.