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 2015 survey, some 86 percent of trailing Millennials and even 33 percent of those over 69 years old engage 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. Nielsen compiled a list of TV shows popular among binge-watchers and assessed how much time would be necessary to complete them. “Orange is the New Black” seems very feasible in one weekend, at 1,430 minutes (almost 24 hours), while "Grey’s Anatomy" might take a little longer to go through: 9,840 minutes (164 hours).

The highest prevalence of marathon-viewing is among the young, as, presumably, they have the most free time on their hands and the least responsibilities: roughly 35 percent of 14 to 25 year-olds claim to binge-watch at least once a week, compared to the 25 percent of 33 to 49 year olds who report doing so. 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”).

Additionally, although the television set is still popular, how people use it differs from generation to generation. For example, about 54 percent of the Generation Y (aged 13 to 35) use a TV set to stream video, and 23 percent of them have TV sets with built-in internet capabilities. 33 percent of those 18 to 24 and 23 percent of those 25 to 34 watch their favorite shows by means of online TV services, but only 4 percent of those 55 and over do so, as they overwhelmingly prefer live TV broadcasts. Furthermore, according to Millennials, the desktop/laptop computer is the number one device they use to marathon-watch TV.

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