Viewers use self-control to binge-watch tv

Some people will pay to binge-watch shows.


In recent years, the way people consume television content has undergone a significant transformation. Gone are the days of patiently waiting for a weekly episode to air, as viewers have embraced the phenomenon of binge-watching.

Binge-watching refers to watching multiple episodes or an entire season of a TV series in one sitting, often fueled by a compulsive desire to consume the narrative in its entirety. However, contrary to popular belief, binge-watching is sometimes synonymous with a lack of self-control.

Viewers today increasingly exercise remarkable self-control as they indulge in extended television marathons. This essay explores the surprising phenomenon of viewers demonstrating self-control while binge-watching, shedding light on the underlying motivations and psychological factors.

Research conducted by the University of California San Diego’s Rady School of Management and School of Global Policy and Strategy, in collaboration with the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and Fox School of Business at Temple University, challenges the perception of binge-watching as impulsive behavior. Contrary to popular belief, viewers should not feel guilty about indulging in extended television marathons.

The study suggests that binge-watching is often a planned activity, with viewers intentionally selecting certain types of programming to consume consecutively. Additionally, they are more willing to pay for the ability to watch multiple episodes at once and prefer waiting to have a collection of episodes before diving into a show.

Study coauthor Uma Karmarkar, assistant professor of marketing and innovation at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management and School of Global Policy and Strategy, said, “We find that the notion of a show being so interesting that it just sucks people in and they can’t pull away is not the whole story, Binge-watching can have a negative connotation, like binge eating or binge drinking. It is generally seen as impulsive and problematic but very indulgent. However, media consumption is more complex. Binge-watching is not always about a self-control failure; it can also be a thoughtful preference and planned behavior.”

A forthcoming paper in “The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied” highlights that viewers tend to plan binge-watching sessions for shows with a strong sequential and connected narrative, such as “Bridgerton,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “Stranger Things,” as opposed to series with standalone episodes like “Law and Order: SVU” or reality competition shows like “Chopped.”

The study emphasizes that genre alone does not determine binge-worthiness, as documentary series with a consecutive storyline can be just as binge-able as fictional series.

Moreover, the research reveals that the way shows are described and marketed can influence viewers’ plans to binge-watch, suggesting that media companies can strategically shape content structure to influence consumer behavior.

The findings also have implications beyond entertainment, as they extend to online education consumption, indicating that students are more likely to plan binge-learning sessions for sequential courses.

The study reconciles previous research on delayed gratification, suggesting that binge-watching primarily applies to media experiences rather than independent activities.

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