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Bingeing TV Helps Industry, Hurts Brains

Illustration by Mia Turner

Every day, Netflix users worldwide spend 140 million hours a day streaming content on the site. Streaming has become more and more ubiquitous, especially with original series. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have fully embraced the power of allowing viewers to view quality television and movies at anytime. Even more so, these streaming services have tried to stay competitive by broadcasting original programs. These shows, usually released a season at a time, have garnered high praise as being similar to the quality once only achieved by cable services. HBO, the channel that was known for having the best television, needed to be bought by AT&T in order to stay competitive with streaming giants. The prevalence of streaming started with House of Cards on Netflix in 2013. Since then, original shows have become synonymous with streaming services. If you look at the Netflix home page, you are bombarded with original shows. If Netflix is producing all of these original shows, can they still maintain the quality they strive for? And, more importantly, what is this method of bingeing doing to the art of TV and to the mental health of those watching?

There is no denying that this is the golden age of TV. We have gotten more and more quality shows than ever, and this in large part, is thanks to Netflix. In 2017, they received 112 Emmy nominations. That is way more then HBO has ever received. This is because Netflix can rapidly produce shows and give their creators full artistic control. HBO and other cable services can’t pump out shows because they don’t have as much money as Netflix. Overall, original shows on streaming services give the general public access to a lot of great TV at a much lower price than cable networks and, they also don’t require a cable subscription. But what about the ways these shows are consumed?

Binge watching shows is extremely popular and Netflix knows that and takes advantage of it. A survey by Netflix found that 61 percent of users watch 2-6 episodes in an entire sitting. If Netflix can keep you hooked to a show, that means more hours using their service, meaning you won’t want to discontinue your subscription. But bingeing TV shows might not have the best results for your brain. According to an article about the effects of binge watching by NBC News, Dr. Renee Carr talks about how binge watching can release dopamine in your brain, the chemical that causes you to feel good. “You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine,” she said. This can cause feelings of sadness once you finish a show because your brain treats binge watching like a drug. According to that same article, viewers who binge watch experience higher levels of stress and anxiety.

There’s also something to be said for the artistic understanding one receives from letting an episode marinate a bit. Having time to reflect on what you watch can lead to a deeper understanding of what the show’s creator wants you to see. Some shows just wouldn’t work well to  be binged. For example the show Sharp Objects. Its world is so depressing that it would be impossible to watch it all at once. There’s a reason why TV is in an episodic format while movies are watched all at once.

Streaming services are responsible for creating some of the best TV. However, we should be apprehensive about what bingeing is doing to our brains and how it is affecting the TV industry as a whole.