The word “binge” is not a nice one. It doesn’t sound nice, and it doesn’t mean nice things. It’s about excessive consumption, often as part of a compulsion. Both with its vast library of streaming options and its penchant to drop entire series at once, Netflix has helped usher in the rise of binge-watching culture. It didn’t invent it by any means – binge watching a show on DVD (or VHS!) or during a TV marathon has always been a part of things, but not necessarily something a majority of viewers participated in, and certainly not on a regular basis. But because of the ease and accessibility of watching shows that are, increasingly, made to be binged, it’s become a major part of being a consumer of TV.
There are many reasons why binge watching TV is not a great way to watch it, but that’s an entirely different argument. What has me fired up today is Netflix releasing some of its preciously guarded data about how we binge watch, and attempting to coin a new term: Binge Racers. According to Netflix, these are:
Accomplishing in a day what takes others weeks to achieve, Binge Racers strive to be the first to finish by speeding through an entire season within 24 hours of its release*. In total, 8.4 million members have chosen to Binge Race during their Netflix tenure, and the only thing faster than their rate of watching is the rate this behavior continues to grow. Between 2013 and 2016 the amount of launch day finishers increased more than 20 times over.
The press release goes on to claim that Binge Racers are not mere couch potatoes, but “super fans,” attempting to glorify the idea of binge racing as some kind of fan gauntlet by which you prove yourself. In other words, if you didn’t binge The Defenders in one weekend, are you even a fan? Give me a friggin’ break.
The many different ways (and platforms) we have to watch TV has nearly erased our ability to have watercooler discussions about shows because we watch them at different times. But “binge racing” attempts to put the pressure on us to stay in and watch these Netflix release or risk feeling left behind. For someone like me, whose job it is to stay on top of TV conversations, it’s an enormously stressful thing to feel forced to watch 13 hours of television upon release to make sure our commentary is timely.
Probably the very worst part of “binge racing” though comes from Brian Wright, Vice President, Original Series:
“There’s a unique satisfaction that comes from being the first to finish a story — whether it’s the final page of a book or the last, climactic moments of your favorite TV show.”
Are you one of those people who respects the comment that says “First!” under a video or article? Are you yourself the one who put it there? If so, you’ll love Binge Racing!
Netflix goes on to say that Binge Racers are everywhere and watch everything, but then provides a list of the shows that were consumed the fastest after release by the most people:
So let’s look at this a little more closely. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, was only four episodes, each one roughly 90 mins long. The Defenders was also a shorter season, with only eight episodes, so running through those series is not as much of an investment as others (in fact, that’s probably why so many comedies pop up on the list). Also revealed in this list: Canadians are really into Trailer Park Boys (as well they should be, and rest in peace John Dunsworth a.k.a. Mr. Lahey).
Look, I couldn’t wait to watch Gilmore Girls when it was released, and kinda accidentally ended up watching the whole thing in a day (pressured partly from a work perspective, but also, because that damn “final four words” tease was in my head). I watched Mindhunter in two days, and finished up GLOW in about the same amount of time. I don’t qualify as a Binge Racer though, and I don’t want to. Sometimes you just enjoy a show and that “Next Episode Starting in 3 Seconds” auto-play enables you to get caught in its loop. There’s no shame in that (ok maybe a little. Fresh air is nice!) The problem I see is the idea of touting Binge Racing as an achievement, or some kind of achievement to unlock. It’s not about enjoying a show or being excited to spend time in its world, it’s about the desire to be first and to “prove” yourself a super fan by consuming excessive amounts of media in a short period of time.
So what do you think about Netflix’s press release and the idea of Binge Racing? Are you a Binge Racer, or does it stress you out?