Binge watching in the U.S.

“Word of the year” (WOTY) lists do not necessarily feature words that linguists think we should use, but rather words that an overwhelming number of people do use, frequently depicting popular culture phenomena or new spins on old uses. In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries chose “selfie” as the international Word of the Year, in part due to the fact that the usage frequency of this word had increased by 17,000 percent compared to the previous year. The shortlist to the WOTY distinction featured other words that are reshaping the modern society, such as "bitcoin", "showrooming" and "binge-watching". Binge-watching, also called binge-viewing or marathon-viewing means to watch multiple episodes of a television series in rapid succession. The word is modeled after similar expressions, such as binge-eating and binge-drinking, usually referring to an excessive consumption of sorts.

Binge-watching is believed to have originated in the 1980s, when some TV stations started featuring reruns of certain series’ episodes in marathon sessions. When DVDs became available for home viewing, their high-storage capacity allowed for entire seasons to be watched by viewers, making it easy to say to oneself “just one more.” Additionally, the cult status of such 90s shows as “Friends”, “Seinfeld” or “Sex and the City” made marathon sessions into rituals among friends and families. Since the advent of on-demand viewing and online streaming in the late 2000s, binge-watching has become a global phenomenon. Furthermore, because some companies, such as popular video-streaming service Netflix, began releasing episodes of its series in blocks, binge-watching is becoming the norm rather than the exception. In fact, according to a 2016 survey, some 90 percent of Millennials and 88 percent of those in the Gen Z category engaged in binge-watching TV series.

There is little consensus regarding how many hours of watching a TV show actually amounts to binging, but a recent Netflix survey concludes that most Americans define it as watching between two and six episodes in one sitting. Other behaviors are more extreme, involving entire seasons or even whole series over a few days.

The most popular category of series watched in back-to-back sessions by all age groups is drama (shows like “Breaking Bad”, “House of Cards” or “Empire”), followed by comedy (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” or “Modern Family”). Some of the reasons given for binge-watching include liking to see the whole story at once and not liking the suspense of waiting a week to find out what happens.

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