Why do we binge watch TV series?

Are you currently hooked on a TV series? Have you spent hours watching episode after episode, because you just can’t get enough? 

The dawn of streaming sites like Netflix has meant TV is watched in a whole different way these days. No longer do you have to wait a week to see the next instalment of your favourite programme, it’s more than likely you’ll have the whole season, if not the whole box set at your fingertips. 

Netflix has become a hugely popular platform, understood to have over 8.4 million users worldwide. This number has increased twenty-fold from 2013 to 2016. Netflix has become so mainstream that it’s already coined a new word for dedicated  TV viewers - ‘binge racer’. This refers to a person that will indulge in 24 hours of uninterrupted TV watching.

The binge racer is the extreme of all extremist binge TV watchers, but what’s so appealing about so much TV?

There's no doubt about it, watching  TV can be a great way to escape the daily grind. It can help you to relax, offer up lots of opportunities to choose exactly what you’d like to watch and can help you feel generally good. 76% of people surveyed by Netflix agreed that the streaming site offered a great form of escapism, especially due to their endless choices, incomparable with the restrictions of  conventional television. 

Getting hooked on a TV series activates a series of reward and pleasure circuits in the brain. According to Diego Redolar, neuro-scientist and professor at the Open University of Catalonia (OUC), watching several episodes of an interesting series in one sitting "encourages the nervous system to kick in, making us want to see more - meaning the more you watch, the more  likely you will become ‘hooked’ “.  

A study by Netflix confirmed that bulk consumption is preferred over staggered viewing.  From their research they found users prefer to see an entire season within a week, rather than being drip fed, for example, one episode per week.

"Faced with a TV series ‘marathon’ opportunity, the brain generates dopamine, a chemical signal related to pleasure", confirms Redolar.

A very careful strategy

Streaming platforms have a careful marketing strategy. They know how to distribute content in such a way that it encourages the user to become serial-addicts. Strategies include, almost always scheduling big releases for Fridays, where several episodes or even the whole season will be made available to the user. 

Elena Neira, lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences at the OUC, said: "The objective is clear: generate the need to consume as soon as possible, preferably the weekend of a new release." 

According to Netflix, a series based on fiction, terror or suspense are the most frequently watched in bulk or  ‘marathon’ style. Redolar explains that this is due to the ‘suspense’ factors most commonly associated with these genres of programmes. 

"Due to their own narrative structure, they facilitate the spectator's immersion-evasion", says Neira. It is the ‘cliffhanger’ culture of single episodes that leave the viewer wanting more, meaning they’re likely to engage with more episodes, for longer.

But don't overdo it...

Too much of a good thing can be bad for your health. Have you ever experienced a real ‘down’ the moment after the completion of great series? Or has the idea of not being able to watch the next episode of your favourite programme made you feel anxious or unable to concentrate on important tasks in your day-to-day life? These feelings are a result of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that is released when you feel pleasure. The dopamine hit is unfortunately addictive. Whether it’s innocent activities like listening to music and eating chocolate, or more extreme and potentially dangerous ones, such as taking cocaine, drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, dopamine helps to promote that addictive feeling. There is a thin line between harmless pleasure and harmful addictions. 

Neira explains: "There are studies that warn about the cognitive and psychological problems that can cause the immersion generated by binge watching TV series. They can lead to isolation and even devaluation of daily personal experiences,"

According to Redolar, some reports have suggested that after binge eating, people may feel physically exhausted and emotionally low. Binge watching TV can also create these similar emotions. 

It’s seems there’s nothing we love more than binge watching, but if you find yourself sitting in front of the TV 24/7, you should probably take some time out, to stop your pleasure time from becoming poison. 

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