Binge viewing: good or bad for us?

bingeAccording to a new study from the University of Toledo there is a new sickness putting the first world at peril: Binge Viewing

Their conclusion is that TV viewing is associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes. With the advent of novel media for viewing television, “binge-watching” is a growing public health concern that needs to be addressed.

Hands up if you love a bit of binge-viewing?  Surely we can agree that there are far worse addictions? It’s a slippery slope according to Yoon Hi Sung who worked on the research and says: “when binge watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others”.  The study concludes that binge-watching has a positive correlation with poor mental and physical wellbeing.

Well correlation and causation are not synonymous.  (Ie: the fact that the cock crows at sunrise everyday on your nearest farm is correlation.  But the cock crowing every morning does not cause the sun to rise so it is not causation).  The participants in the research were self-confessed binge watchers, and with due respect to the research it might be that it reveals couch potato health hazards rather than the outcomes from watching most of Mad Men in one sitting.

At Deloitte and Enders Media and Telecoms 2016 and Beyond Conference this year Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton also drew some conclusions from the advent of binge viewing.  He suggested that it has revolutionised the quality and brilliance of scripted entertainment.  In the past scripted episodes of a series were designed to stand alone.  You didn’t want to lose audience if they missed an episode of a long running series and so you made sure that, as far as possible, each episode was “close-ended” ie stand alone.  This had repercussions for the characters in such shows.  They couldn’t really change over time, it was hard for them to go on an emotional journey that lasted longer than 20 minutes.  If you wanted to write that kind of script, then movies were the only medium for you, and TV as a medium meant limited risk taking with the story arcs and with the characters.  Anything too complicated as a story arc over a number of episodes was rejected usually as it would result in viewers who missed episodes giving up and dropping out (certainly in TV commissioners’ minds according to Lynton).

On demand viewing changes all of this.  Now you can watch a season on demand, in your own time, and you can join a fan base in series 6 of Game of Thrones simply by binge viewing series 1-5.  This allows the writers more freedom.  To develop characters and stories in a much more complex way.  If you were a Mad Men fan then the complexity of Don Draper’s character development defied explanation, and certainly couldn’t be summed up in an elevator pitch.  Walter White took at least until series two to cross over to the dark side, an unfeasible pace of story for the old episodic TV world.

So on demand viewing may have exacerbated binge viewing for some people to an unhealthy extent (as they say moderation in everything is the best, including in being moderate).  Yet the amazing, unexpected consequence of on demand technology is the migration of amazing, brilliant, genius writers to the TV medium.  The movies are no longer the only medium for subtle and slow paced stories.  The latest series of Fargo was arguably as superb as the original movie, and effectively therefore a 10 hour film, which you could, at your convenience, watch once a week or in one weekend.

Is this the devil’s work?  Surely rather it is the invocation of the muse of creative genius.


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