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It’s the year 2000, and you just borrowed the complete first season DVD of The X-Files, one of the first television shows to be released on DVD. You’ve heard rave reviews about the show and you have finally decided to give it a try. You are filled with excitement as you slide the disk into the DVD player and immerse yourself in the wonders of the pilot episode. There’s no going back now. 

After 43 minutes of suspense and mystery, and of course, an intriguing cliffhanger, you simply must see the next episode.

Then two episodes turn into three.

And three episodes turn into one long night.

This is the start of what has come to be known as binge watching. In 2000, television shows began their release to DVD, enabling people to watch entire seasons in one sitting. In more recent years, the introduction of streaming services has allowed users to access content anywhere and at any time. The practice of binge watching has exploded.

In 2013, 38 percent of people in the U.S. subscribed to Netflix and 18 percent to Hulu, according to a recent report by Nielsen, a company that studies the trends and habits of consumers. Among Netflix users, 88 percent stream three or more episodes in one day and 70 percent of the Hulu users do the same.

“Serial dramas make you want to watch the next [episode] because they have a cliffhanger at the end of the first one,” said Professor Ray Kalas, a broadcasting professor at County College of Morris and frequent binge watcher. “It might be a great show, it might not be a great show, but the serial nature of that show makes me want to continue watching it.”

Kalas has binge watched a number of shows and has found that the three main reasons why people binge watch are pure enjoyment, cliffhangers and an inability to commit to a show at one time each week.

The first show he binge watched was Arrested Development because he “really enjoys it.” He spent an “entire spring break” watching the series on DVD.

“Somebody might think that was a waste of time, but I use the excuse that I teach broadcasting,” he joked.

Kalas said he has not come across another show that he “craves” to watch. If another season of Arrested Development was released, he would “watch it in a heartbeat.”

Kalas has also binge watched Breaking Bad, but wasn’t too impressed with it.

“A lot of people say Breaking Bad is one of the best shows ever on television,” he said. “I don’t think it was that good… I mean I watched the entire thing, so it can’t be that bad. But I binge watched it because it is a pop culture thing. I feel like if I’m going to teach broadcasting, I have to be aware of what most of my students are watching too.”

Kalas attempted to binge watch Lost at the recommendation of a student who described it as “the greatest show,” but he could only get through 2.5 seasons before giving up.

He is currently binge watching Star Trek: Enterprise and said he watches it once every night on his iPad.

As a self-proclaimed binge watcher, Kalas said he cannot commit to a specific time to watch a show on television. Additionally, the wait period after watching one episode causes him to lose interest by the time the second episode airs. Instead, he waits for the entire season to be over so he can binge watch all of it at once.

“If I binge watch, I become committed to it,” he said. “I have to watch the rest of [the show] even if I don’t want to… because I’ve committed to it to a certain extent.”

An example of this is shown in the release of House of Cards, a Netflix original series in which the entire season is released and available to stream at once. This was also done with Orange is the New Black and season four of Arrested Development. 

However, even with the rise of streaming television, Kalas believes that there will always be a venue for “normal” television, especially for news programs and syndicated shows such as Jeopardy. 

“There’s always going to be a market for television, but I think the content of those television shows is going to change,” he said. “As long as there is a broadcast, as long as there is a cable wire coming into your house, there is going to be television shows that people are going to watch and wait for in the way that they’ve always watched and waited for.”

Danielle Florio, a 20-year-old communication major, said that binge watching is convenient, especially for catching up on shows that air during a time that conflicts with something else. It’s also good for when you’re staying home sick or simply have some free time.

As Kalas mentioned, Florio said that there is a point where you grow obsessed with a show because of the cliffhanger. Even if you don’t want to or can’t continue, you feel compelled to watch the next episode anyway.

“It becomes like an addiction where you’re watching and you know you have something to do,” she said.

Binge watching gives you the opportunity to watch shows you would not otherwise watch, according to Florio. Once you finish one show, you need to find another one to start, causing you to select one at the recommendation of a friend or simply because you heard it was good.

“You get hooked immediately,” she said. “I think you get hooked a lot faster when you watch more than one episode at the same time.”

Florio said that if you watch Netflix for a long time in one sitting without moving the mouse or touching a key, a screen pops up asking if you’re still watching.

“When you’re watching it for a really, really long time and it comes up, like, four times, you’re [thinking], ‘I may have a problem,’” she joked. “Netflix is trying to tell me that I need to stop.”

In addition to binge watching television shows, Florio has binge watched movies and TV shows based on specific actors “for too many people, it’s shameful.” You can use IMDb to find all of the work they’ve done and watch it all.

Though she is a binge watcher, Florio still has specific shows that she commits to watching every week.

“You get to talk about things with your friends, [and] you get to kind of speculate what’s going to happen,” she said. “But if you’re doing it just by yourself, there’s no time for speculating. You’re just going through it.”

Victoria Bruder, an 18-year-old communication major, suggests that “some shows are not worth the wait” when it comes to committing to watching a show every week. However, you may find it’s worth doing so if you “respect the show.”

Bruder, has also binge watched before. She started watching Lost a year ago and grew bored of it after half a season, but she has recently decided to give it another try. Her reason for watching involves pop culture, similar to Kalas’ reason for watching Breaking Bad.

“I like it, but it gets boring after a while,” she said. “Everyone says it’s good; I feel like it’s something I should watch.”

Though binge watching has become awfully popular, there are still some others who prefer it the traditional way. Communication major Daniel Akpatsu, 21, feels that binge watching is too “time consuming” and would rather go out and make better use of his time.

“I feel like it’s a part of the American culture because growing up where I grew up, we didn’t have access. You had to wait; you had no option,” he said. “Over here you have the opportunity and all the stuff is available, so you can just do it anytime you want.”

However, that’s not to say that Akpatsu never binge watched. He grew up in Africa and said that he did not have access to all of these TV shows, so his friends downloaded them.

“I did binge watch a whole season of Friends,” he said. “There was a point in time where I’d just walk up to people and start saying awkward jokes. I felt like I was Chandler.”

Overall, Akpatsu describes the practice of binge watching as “weird” and prefers to wait for his television shows from week to week.

Matthew McCloskey, a 20-year-old digital media technology major, said his “whole life is content.” He is more than the typical binge watcher, as he not only binge watches television shows, but he binge watches movies, directors and even YouTubers. However, he seems to view his content from an analytical perspective and sees it as a learning experience.

“It’s a good perspective to… watch a whole season or a whole show and see how things change,” he said. “When you watch seasons that are all directed by the same people, it always has that same feel… but when you binge watch a series that isn’t… you just watch this huge change.”

Binge watching has introduced McCloskey to shows he never would have considered watching before, such as How I Met Your Mother. He would always change the channel when it was on TV. Since it was available on Netflix, he decided to give it a try and ended up loving it.

“It introduced me to a whole different style,” he said. “So when I go down to edit video and stuff, it gives me a whole new perspective.”

McCloskey wakes up and falls asleep to his television shows, so much so that they have crept into his dreams.

“The select few [dreams] that I do [remember] always end up having to do with something that I’m either watching or I’ve watched or I just recently experienced,” he said.

He recently had a dream about Top Gear, a BBC series about motor vehicles, and said it was the “greatest dream” he ever had.

Among the content McCloskey binge watched that is not television shows is work directed by Quentin Tarantino. He also watched the whole series of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, both in Swedish and in English. He has seen all of the Halloween movies and has gone through Netflix’s entire horror and comedy categories multiple times.

“[Watching] all the old [horror movies] and then watching it grow up to the newer stuff is just really cool, especially when they change directors,” he said.

Another reason he binge watches involves the accessibility of the content. He said he can watch Netflix on nearly 10 devices including his Nintendo 3DS, Xbox, Blu-ray player and iPad. He also enjoys watching shows he watched as a child because “it’s just such a great feeling to watch something and remember.”

Despite the fact that McCloskey has been binge watching for a long time, he said he didn’t know what binge watching was until recently.

“We didn’t really realize that what we were doing was binge watching,” he said. “It’s just something that we’re used to; it’s just a part of us.”


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