A record might be set today, when millions of Netflix subscribers are expected to “binge-watch” the second season of “Stranger Things.”
To “binge” is to participate or perform an activity in an excessive manner during a short period time. Prior to binge-watching, a common usage of “binge” was “binge-eating.”
Binge-watching describes the practice of watching part or all of a television or film series in a short period of time. Netflix, the world’s largest online video-streaming service, is credited with popularizing binge-watching by making programs available for viewing when, where and as rapidly as subscribers choose.
Is there harm in binge-watching? Not necessarily. I have binge-watched. My first was a 24-hour “The Monkees” marathon on Nick at Nite more than 20 years ago. My most recent was “The Keepers,” a Netflix docuseries.
However, some may view binge-watching a close cousin of gluttony. Both evoke a sense of overindulgence. The association can be troubling. In many religious and spiritual contexts, gluttony is about irrational excess.
Is there a comparison? Though some may take binge-watching to the extreme, for most the practice is a relatively harmless pastime. (Some bloggers even write of exercising during a binge-watching session in an effort to counteract any potential ill-effects of sitting too long.)
According to Netflix, the popularity of binge-watching has given rise to “binge-racing.” The company describes it as, “Accomplishing in a day what takes others weeks to achieve, binge-racers strive to be the first to finish by speeding through an entire season within 24 hours of its release.”
Netflix uses artificial intelligence to meticulously mine and track viewer data. For example, the company knows five U.S. members have binge-raced each season of “House of Cards” the day they were released. Meanwhile, a member in France has binge-raced 30 TV series so far in 2017.
The company’s data also show 8.4 million people have binge-raced at least one program since becoming Netflix members. The two most binge-raced shows worldwide are “Gilmore Girls: a Year in the Life” and “Fuller House” (the first season of “Stranger Things” is 10th).
In the United States, we’re second only to Canada in binge-racing. Since 2013, there has been a surge in binge-racing — from 200,000 to more than 5 million members on Netflix alone.
Netflix reached 100 million subscribers worldwide in April. A few months later, Fortune magazine reported the company’s U.S. member base had doubled since 2012. It now has more subscribers than the nation’s six largest cable companies combined — 50.85 million to their 48.6 million.
However, Netflix isn’t alone in offering streaming services. There’s YouTube (1 billion active users per month), Amazon Prime Video (an estimated 38 million monthly users) and Hulu (12 million). Plus, cable — and satellite providers — offer on-demand streaming options, too.
As a result, it’s unfair to call it a fad or assume it’s limited to a small segment of the population.
“There’s a unique satisfaction that comes from being the first to finish a story, whether it’s the final page of a book or the last, climactic moments of your favorite TV show,” said Brian Wright, vice president of Netflix Original Series.