Sara's Column: Bet you can’t watch just one

Binge-watching. It’s insidious. It creeps up on you. It starts with just one or two episodes, but they’re all there for the taking. Next thing you know, you’ve just watched a whole season of your favorite show.
Jul 11, 2014


It’s insidious. It creeps up on you.

It starts with just one or two episodes, but they’re all there for the taking. Next thing you know, you’ve just watched a whole season of your favorite show.

The fun part comes when you realize there are no other seasons to watch. Then you’re eagerly perusing fan sites to find out when the next season starts.

I’ve gotten to the point that when I look for a new/old show to watch, the first thing I check is the number of seasons; the more seasons there are, the more I can really sink my teeth into the show. Too many times I’ve gotten hooked on a show only to realize it ended midway through its first season (I never said my taste in shows was necessarily great, Law and Order excluded). 

I would say I blame online streaming services, but cable companies are happy enablers, too, thanks to on-demand services.

I never expected to be a binge-watcher. I was never really all that into television shows. Growing up, I knew people who scheduled their evenings (and sometimes afternoons) around the television lineup. Heaven forbid they miss their shows!

I always refused to do that. And when you consistently miss episodes, it’s easy to not get into the show.

On-demand programming marked the beginning of a mind-shift for me. 

I was finally able to watch each episode of a show in sequence without having to adjust my life around it, so I started to actually look forward to watching certain shows.

But as a naturally impatient sort, I hated waiting until the next week to find out what happened after that inevitable cliffhanger. And let’s not even get into those end-of-season cliffhangers.

When I started watching shows on Netflix and Hulu, I found all sorts of shows that I’d never watched before; shows that had been on for years, but were still new to me.

I’d start from that pilot episode, and with each episode’s cliffhanger, I’d just have to see what the next episode would bring. Pretty soon, I’d have watched a full season or more – within a day or two. 

I became so spoiled by not having to wait to see what came next that when I was watching a show mid-season, I found myself waiting until multiple episodes built up unwatched in my watchlist queue. Now I barely can tolerate just watching one episode at a time.

And I’ve only recently started realizing how many people are just like me. Binge-watching is now a “thing.” 

In a 2013 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Netflix, 61 percent of 1,500 television streamers (online U.S. adults who stream television shows at least once a week) said they binge-watch regularly. The majority of people surveyed defined binge-watching as 2-6 episodes of the same show in one sitting. 

Personally, I’d say 2-6-plus.

Netflix even worked with a cultural anthropologist to help figure out why.

“I found that binge watching has really taken off due to a perfect storm of better TV, our current economic climate and the digital explosion of the last few years,” said Grant McCracken, cultural anthropologist. “But this TV watcher is different, the couch potato has awoken. And now that services like Netflix have given consumers control over their TV viewing, they have declared a new way to watch.”

And apparently I was part of a trend and didn’t even realize it.

“Our viewing data shows that the majority of streamers would actually prefer to have a whole season of a show available to watch at their own pace,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix.

I’ll go ahead and say here that these survey results should be taken with a grain of salt. Since only current television streamers were sampled, it wasn’t a truly randomized sampling, so the results can’t be automatically applied to the general population. 

The results do, however, offer some insight into just how prevalent binge-watching has become.

It’s a safe assumption that if the number of television streamers is increasing – which several indicators point to – so too is the number of binge-watchers, according to these results.

And when you stop to think about it, it’s not all that surprising.

Let’s face it, we’re impatient as a society and we like our television shows. 

Marry instant gratification and entertainment, and you have a lot of happy streamers.

Sara McManamy-Johnson is the digital content director for The Lebanon Democrat and Wilson County News. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports. 


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