The end of year holidays are times of relaxation, recuperation and, possibly, some indulgence. Inevitably many of us return to work with belts feeling a little tighter, but with precious memories of memorable meals, mouth-delighting wine and time well spent with friends and family. This year there was another temptation to which many of us may have succumbed – binge-watching TV! Appropriately the Collins English Dictionary identified this term as “the word of 2015”, a conservative choice given that the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary selected a pictograph for this honour, rather than a word – the emoji, face with tears of joy.
The term, binge, was used in relation to drinking and eating well before it was attached to TV viewing, and described indulging in an activity to excess, often over a relatively short time. In the days of standard broadcast TV, without catch-up or streaming options, viewers had to survive on the drip feed of weekly scheduled programmes at a set time. They could then, of course, enjoy the crucial water cooler moments the following day, when colleagues dissected the events of their favourite show. It was VCR, and then DVD boxed sets that first facilitated the treat of being able to watch more than one episode of a show a week. For me watching 2 episodes a night of a rented pirate recording “The Jewel in the Crown” over consecutive evenings was my introduction this vice. South Africa was an outcast nation at that stage, and our local purveyor of high end videos, built his business on the flagrant flouting of U.K. copyright laws.
Indeed, there was something vaguely shameful about such indulgence, perhaps a lack of control. But I could snobbishly convince myself that such exquisite programming deserved focused attention. When local broadcasters began to flight “omnibus” broadcasts of the weeks’ soap operas on Saturday mornings, I felt slight pity for those poor addicts of this lowly genre, who needed to sacrifice whole slabs of their weekend mornings to sate their cravings.
A survey released last year by TiVo (the U.S.A manufacturer of a unified entertainment system, which, according to David Pogue of Yahoo, serves as “hub for the whole universe of video”) indicated that binge-watching has become more acceptable. Only 30% of respondents (obviously TiVo subscribers) indicated a negative view of binge-watching compared with two years ago, when more than half of respondents felt that it was an undesirable habit. The definition of binge-watching in this survey was relatively hard core – watching more than three episodes of a series in a single day. Nevertheless 91% of respondents admitted to indulging in this behavior, even if only occasionally.
Intriguingly only 39% of respondents felt that certain shows were “better watched back to back”. The more commonly claimed reason for binge-watching was that viewers were catching up on episodes because they had fallen behind on their viewing, or because they had come to hear about a show after a substantial number of episodes had been broadcast.
Clearly something has to give in their lives if some viewers are scarfing down episodes of TV programmes. It would appear that sleep and housework are frequently sacrificed, whilst some respondents admit to their nutrition suffering. Fortunately, less than 10% admit that their indulgence affects their hygiene!
Not surprisingly, medical researchers have been quick to warn viewers of the hazards of binge-watching. The National Cancer Institute in Michigan released findings that heavy TV viewers (those who watched more than 3 and a half hours of TV a day) are at increased risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, influenza, pneumonia, Parkinson’s and liver disease. The increase is around 15% but for those poor souls who watch 7 hours a day, the risk rises to 47%! This particular study took into consideration factors such as unhealthy eating, smoking and drinking. Removing these factors, still left the link between disease and being slumped in front of the TV set. Researchers at the University of Texas have highlighted the dangers of binge viewing to mental health, but are not able to demonstrate whether excessive TV viewing leads to depression and anxiety, or whether these disorders lead to sufferers attempting to escape into the comfort of binge-watching.
In the last quarter of 2015, Naspers pre-empted the arrival of the much awaited Netflix, launching ShowMax to South Africans. In the first week of this year, Netflix announced its arrival in South Africa, albeit with a somewhat limited repertoire compared with ShowMax. (On the other hand, the quality of Netflix video is superior.) The question now is how many South Africans are prepared to sacrifice their sleep and health for the pleasure of back to back viewing.
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