It’s the weekend, the kids are in bed and you’re curled up on a big comfy sofa. You’ve got a super soft blanket wrapped round you, a big mug of coffee in your hand (or a big glass of wine depending on how long a week it’s been!) and a pile of snacks within arm’s reach. In front of you is a beautifully sleek Panasonic HDR 4k tv, perfect to transport you away to whatever fictional place takes your fancy.
If you’re after a bit of fantasy escapism then you might head to the seven kingdoms, or if it’s comfort you’re after then maybe you’ll choose Stars Hollow. Wherever you decide to go, chances are you’ll be there for more than one episode!
Why is that though? What is it that makes binge watching shows so appealing?
I can still remember the first time I really binge-watched a tv series.
It was before we had the children, and were still living in a little one bed flat in town. We used to watch CSI every week, and then after a while we splashed out on the dvd of the first series. We put it on, only meaning to watch one or two episodes. But we just kept watching. Before we knew it, hours had passed and we had watched what’s probably an unhealthy amount of episodes.
It was just too easy to keep watching, as each episode started playing automatically after the previous one finished.
Since then I’ve binge watched loads of different series. When I was breastfeeding Nerys I watched so much tv, I used to watch things during night feeds as well as during the day when she fed.
More recently I watched Game of Thrones in its entirety in an alarmingly short amount of time.
So what exactly is behind this? Why are so many of us unable to stop watching after just one episode?
There are several reasons that I can think of.
- It’s just so easy
I honestly think this is a big reason why I watch more than one episode at a time of my favourite programmes. I watch a lot of things on Netflix, and it’s all too easy to just keep watching when the next episode autoplays before the credits have finished rolling on the episode before!
- We don’t want to be left behind
When everyone else is all caught up with the latest must-watch programme, we want to be too. It’s as simple as that, we don’t want to be left out of conversations. I know for me personally, I started watching Game of Thrones from the start so that I was up to speed with it when season six aired. After resisting watching it for so long, I finally gave in and decided I would give it a go, but I didn’t want to be seeing spoilers all the time, so felt I needed to catch up and then watch the new episodes as soon as I could.
- It makes us feel good
Watching tv is, generally, a relaxing and enjoyable pastime. A study by Harris Interactive found that three-quarters of the people they asked who regularly binge-watched shows on Netflix, had positive feelings about doing so. Studies have found that when we’re really drawn into a tv programme we show a lot of empathy towards the characters. This then causes us to produce more oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, which makes us feel good. So, of course, we want to keep watching more to keep feeling good!
- The writing has adapted to get us to keep watching
Now this is interesting. The way programmes are written has changed to make us more likely to watch more than one episode at a time. Think back to the days before on-demand tv. When you had to wait a whole week between episodes of Friends. Each episode worked as a stand-alone piece. Yes, there were longer running story arcs, and occasional cliff-hangers, but most episodes were pretty self-contained. Now though, the writers are going for much more detailed story arcs, and creating worlds that we want to immerse ourselves in. You can’t just dip in and watch a single episode of these programmes the same way you could with Friends. I’ve not seen Breaking Bad, and I know if I tried to watch an episode from partway through the series I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on!
- It gives us somewhere to escape to
If you’ve had a really busy day and are feeling stressed out and worn out, watching 2 or 3 episodes of your favourite show back to back lets you really get engrossed in it and forget your own bad day. Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken carried out some research on behalf of Netflix and found that 8 out of 10 viewers felt that binge-watching something was more enjoyable that just watching one episode. His conclusion was that our non-stop lifestyles aren’t leading us to want to zone out to mindless tv, instead we’re drawn to these shows that tell in-depth stories and create alternative worlds for us to lose ourselves in.
So now we know why we do it, what’s the right way to binge watch something?
Well firstly, you want to make the experience as enjoyable as possible, so try and create a great environment to watch it like I described at the start of this post.
Choose something to watch based on the mood you’re in, or the mood you want to be in. If I want to really get engrossed in something for a bit then I’ll go for a programme like Game of Thrones or Prison Break. If I’m feeling a bit low and in need of some warm and fuzzies then I’ll put Gilmore Girls on. And if I’m a bit fried then something easy to watch is in order, like How I met your mother or Charmed.
On a more serious note, take a minute to think about why you might be binge watching. If it’s just that you’ve had a long week and want to get lost in something for a few hours then I don’t see the harm. If, on the other hand, you’re using it as a way of procrastinating or of trying to forget something that’s hanging over your head and stressing you out, then that’s not so good. Your worries and your to-do list will still be there when you step away from the tv.
So maybe crack on with that niggling job that needs doing. Get those things ticked off your to-do list.
And then you can really relax and properly enjoy your binge watching session.
Do you prefer to watch just one episode of your favourite programme? Or do you find it really hard to stop after just one?! What’s your current tv obsession?
Disclosure – This is a collaborative post but all words are my own.