Binge Viewing: The new legal high

Forget synthetic cannabis, there’s a new legal high in town and you don’t even need to leave your sofa to get it.

Popular cult TV series such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and House of cards have highlighted a new type of viewer – the ‘binge viewer’. A ‘binger’ will consecutively watch TV episodes in one sitting, an increasingly common experience for us made available through the latest technology.

But is technology the driving force in our new binge viewing habits? In this age of control is it simply because we don’t think we should have to ‘wait’ to watch more of what we like, or is there some deeper fix albeit addiction at play?

Recent research conducted by NetFlix suggests that we actually crave long narratives as a form of de-stressing. TV series that serve increasingly complex plot lines and character development are successfully feeding this craving, providing an opportunity to become more deeply immersed in the ‘escape’. This research begins to unravel our compulsion to binge on to the next episode, without waiting.

A study conducted by Psychologist Uri Hasson of Princeton University provides a more in-depth explanation of this phenomenon. When sampling blood from TV participants before and after viewing videos, tests showed a heightened release of oxytocic (a hormone associated with empathy) after the video. In essence, the hormones release a form of ‘high’ gained through our adoption of other’s psychological perceptions and their emotional universe.

After watching the video participants were also given the opportunity to donate money to a charity; the level of oxytocin was able to predict how much money people were willing to share. The findings were clear evidence of our empathy as social beings – even when viewing a fictional story.

We’ve always known emotion is a powerful tool in the world of communications, this research provides further substantiation; it wasn’t just about the great content but also how the experience of viewing that content in bulk made them feel.

Locally video publishers such as TV3 OnDemand have begun leveraging these binging habits by releasing bulk episodes. Soho on Sky is also running pop up channels with entire channels dedicated to specific TV shows. We’re  likely to see this trend grow across other online video platforms as they make an effort to keep up with binging on demand.

So if you feel a compulsion to binge on your favourite TV show rest assured you’re not alone, and by all means go right ahead – it’s an addiction that’s relatively safe to indulge. For now.

Date: May 06, 2014