TORONTO – Most Internet users who regularly stream TV shows online define “binge viewing” as watching as few as two episodes back-to-back in one sitting or as many as six, according to survey results released Friday by Netflix.
About 61 per cent of the users polled said they binge watch regularly, and nearly three in four users said they don’t feel guilty doing it.
While the survey results are based on online polling in the U.S., Netflix also commissioned Canadian cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken to visit half a dozen Toronto households and a number of others south of the border to talk about how users watch TV.
McCracken observed that those who have moved away from the old-fashioned channel surfing, schedule-based style of TV viewing — whether because of Netflix, having a PVR to record shows, or watching DVDs and Blu-Rays — seemed much more passionate about what they watch.
“I was buying the original idea (of bingeing), which seemed to be that there’s something unhealthy about it … but what you get instead is people talking about how passionately they’re engaged and the intelligence they bring to the viewing experience,” said McCracken, a former director at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
“It’s kind of an evolutionary pattern here, we’re moving away from the couch potato … to a moment where people are watching shows in a more concentrated, thoughtful, engaged way and as that’s happening — and I think one of the reasons it’s happening — is TV is actually getting better.”
McCracken said he noticed Canadians seemed even more engrossed than their American counterparts in terms of deeply analyzing their favourite shows.
“Everybody these days is watching TV from two points of view simultaneously. On the one hand, they’re emotionally engaged and passionately interested,” McCracken said.
“On the other hand, they are second guessing the creative decisions they’re looking at, they’re saying, ‘That’s an interesting casting choice’ or ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have used that camera angle.’ There’s a kind of critical dialogue going on and I think Canadians do that even more than Americans do it, where they keep up two kinds of points of view.
“We just have a natural gift for watching what we’re watching.”
He cited “The Wire” — which isn’t available on Netflix — as one show that generated some interesting conversations about why people enjoy bingeing on deeper shows that don’t fit the typical prime-time mould.
“People talk about — and they’re right to talk about — the magnificent complexity of a thing like ‘The Wire,’ for a lot of people it’s their introduction to TV that is jewel-like in its complexity,” he said.
“Sometimes binge TV is a very personal, individual kind of experience and sometimes it’s a very social thing and people are using these shows to build connections with one another and find one another in some sense, through the TV engagement, which I think is a dramatic movement away from the couch potato predecessor, which was really not connecting to anything or anyone.”