Why do we binge-watch?

25 May

A 25-hour marathon

A few years ago, nobody had heard of the term binge-watching, but nowadays it is almost impossible to escape it. Shows are often being marketed as ‘binge-watchable products’, not just on Netflix but on more traditional channels as well. For example, TBS released their show Angie Tribeca during a 25-hour marathon on their channel in the beginning of 2016. The marathon consisted of all 10 episodes of the first series, that were repeated five times. Whether this was a smart move is up for questioning. The show never really got popular and many critics concluded that it was not a show suited for binge-watching.

“Not every show is built for a marathon — nor should it be. The problem with Angie Tribeca is that TBS so aggressively publicized it as a show that could, and should, be watched all at once, seemingly for no reason other than because the network assumes people might do it, anyway” (Framke)

One more episode

What is it then, that makes some shows suitable for binge-watching whereas we’d rather watch others with weekly intervals?  At first thought, cliffhangers seem to be important. You click on the next episode button because you want to know what happens next, or even more so you NEED to know. However, as I’ve learned from last weekend, this is not always the case. After three days of binge-watching Gilmore Girls, I started to question this argument. There is nothing about Gilmore Girls that you do not know from the start. It is a very predictable show in which nothing really happens. There is some conflict in each episode, but that usually gets resolved within that episode. Why do I watch 40 episodes of that show in one weekend? There has got to be a reason…


A case could be made for availability. The strength of Netflix is that it makes binge-watching easy. It might even be harder not to do it. The next episode automatically plays within seconds after you’ve finished watching one, so if you don’t click exit quickly enough, you’ll be sucked into the next episode. When I watch television through other channels, for example the website of Dutch public television, I am often annoyed by how slow they are. The pages take ages to load and are full of advertisements. These things will make it less likely that I will spent most of my day watching. The same is true for traditional television. Channels like Comedy Central and MTV frequently run marathons of their shows during the weekend, but the ads make it almost impossible to watch for a long amount of time.

Fear of missing out

Another reason could be the fandom culture that exists around a show. Whereas Angie Tribeca never seemed to reach a big fandom following, Gilmore Girls has been popular for over a decade and recently got renewed attention from its fanbase when Netflix announced to release a new season after the show had been off-air for ten years. Mainly because of social media, many fandoms overlap nowadays. This could be a reason to start binge-watching a show. Your friends are in the fandom of that show and you are behind. There is a certain sense of missing out if you do not watch it as quickly as possible.


It’s difficult to put a finger on what it is that makes one show more likely to be binge-watched than others. It is also hard to say if it matters for the success of the show. In the case of Angie Tribeca, with different advertising (not focused on the binge-watcher), the show might have been more successful. For now, we can only speculate. However, it is interesting to keep these different arguments and concepts in your mind the next time you click on a new episode at 4 am…



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