More viewers 'binge' on episodes

DVRs and online providers like Hulu and Netflix are making marathon TV-watching easier than ever.

Netflix/AP
Kevin Spacey stars in ‘House of Cards.’

Let’s face it; turning off the TV has always been a challenge. It can be far too easy to watch endless reruns of “Seinfeld,” or episode after episode of “House Hunters” into the wee hours of the morning.

Now, with DVRs and online providers like Hulu Plus and Netflix, marathon TV-watching is easier than ever, and has led to a new phenomenon called “binge watching” – viewing several episodes or an entire season at one sitting.

“TV watching used to be seen almost as a vice, a bad habit. If you sat on the couch, you were viewed as a couch potato,” says John Jurgensen, an entertainment reporter for The Wall Street Journal. “Now it’s a more personal and curated experience. People are able to watch what they want to watch, and aren’t just being fed what the networks are giving them.”

In February, Netflix released its original series “House of Cards,” with the whole first season available at once, a nod to the fact that many people are too busy to carve out the same night each week to watch an episode, or don’t want to wait too long to find out what happens next.

The Nielsen Company, a television market research firm, reports that over the past six years Americans have become far more likely to view programs in nontraditional ways. While most still have at least one TV set, about 67 percent of those surveyed also get content from other devices, such as a computer or smart phone. Eighteen percent of those surveyed were considering subscribing to a new online television service.

Mr. Jurgensen, who writes about TV binge watching, admits he binge watches shows like HBO’s “Girls,” but says that after watching more than four hours of TV he feels a bit of a comedown, as if he has overeaten.

Not all critics are on board with this approach, however. Jim Pagels, a TV and film critic for Slate.com, feels viewing TV this way defeats the purpose. Episodes are written with self-contained story arcs, he explains, and viewers should be thinking about shows over the course of the week, allowing cliffhangers to hang.

But Jurgensen says bingeing is here to stay, and that online viewing has not only drastically changed TV’s business model but also the social aspect of watching it. “When you’re talking to your friends, there’s now a conversation about how you’re watching that’s almost equal to what’s happening in the show,” he says. “There’s a pressure to keep up, to be aggressive about whatever other people are bingeing on. You have to watch the ‘important’ shows.”

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