To Binge or Not to Binge – Wait, Is That Even a Question??

Of course you’re going to watch the entire season in one night


March 7, 2017

Shut up and take my money

When considering the concept of marketing a brand persona, Netflix immediately sprang to mind. From the very beginning, Netflix as a DVD rental service catered to the introvert (and absentminded) among us — I used to live across the street from Blockbuster, but no matter what, I would still somehow always accrue late fees; Netflix, therefore, revolutionized my life. Choosing movies online with Netflix meant I could sit at home in my pajamas and mull over thousands of options, instead of having to get dressed and leave the house spend time at a video rental store deliberating over choices, only to discover that the movie you were looking for had already been rented. Being able to hold onto DVDs as long as you wanted without fear of stacking up devastating daily late fees was just too seductive an offer to pass up. I was more than willing to fork over a monthly fee for Netflix back in 2007 (and I’m still subscribed, ten years later), even if it meant that I didn’t always get around to watching the movies delivered from my “queue.” To help customers wade through their vast collection of content, Netflix developed an algorithm designed to recommend suggestions based on individuals’ ratings of shows and movies. The extremely precise categories became somewhat ridiculous, but nevertheless offered customers the feeling that their tastes were unique and, even more importantly, that Netflix could provide movies and TV shows suitable for one’s own niche viewing preferences. (The curious can find an exhaustive list of all of Netflix’s film categories here.)

A streaming dream

Once Netflix announced the option to stream movies and TV shows, the real cultivation of the Netflix customer persona began in earnest. After receiving numerous cracked DVDs in the mail, I, for one, was eager to drop my DVD plan and switch to a streaming-only monthly subscription. At first the selection was somewhat limited, but with the addition of “Netflix Originals” and foreign films and TV shows, Netflix’s catalog grew exponentially. Along with other streaming services, Netflix’s extremely accessible and well-stocked catalog of shows helped give rise to the cultural phenomenon of “binge-watching.” Instead of having to wait a whole week for the next episode of a beloved show to air, viewers could continue watching instantly. A Telegraph article from 2015 that discusses the evolution of binge-watching from box sets to streaming services  reports that 75 percent of viewers binge-watch shows.

Clicking on that teasing “Watch next episode” button has become second-nature. It’s playing havoc with our social lives, work ethic and relationships – but it means we’re watching more TV than ever.

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Can’t stop, won’t stop

Immediate access to all episodes of a show creates an almost irresistible addictive experience – you’re going to ride the roller coaster until it stops. The feeling of “just one more episode” supports Netflix’s user persona. As a result of Netflix’s unprecedented success, many shows, now, in fact, are developed to fit the binge-watch model. One might argue, however, that, just like cramming for a test the night before limits your ability to truly retain what you’ve learned, binge-watching a series creates the potential for forgettable experiences, or, worse, a sort of existential crisis at the end of the show, as spoofed in this early Portlandia episode:

This is not what it means to be introverted

Annoyingly for those of us who actually are introverts, in the last few years there appears to be a trend emerging on the interwebs declaring that it’s “cool” to be an introvert, or that (gasp!) you might actually be an introvert and not know it! As a core component of Jung’s and later, Myers-Brigg’s personality types, introversion and extroversion have to do with how an individual’s energy is replenished and whether that energy is focused on the outer world or the inner world. The “trendy” introvert is “withdrawn” and “shy,” or “deep” and “weird” which is associated with a cool, mysterious persona that YOU should emulate, too, because it’s, like, really awesome. More accurately, these articles are describing social anxiety disorder, not introversion.

Staying at home and binge-watching on Netflix fits a shallow perception of this “introvert persona,” which Netflix has incorporated into their brand marketing strategy. The popularity of the phrase and practice of “Netflix and chill,” however, suggests that binge-watching is no longer limited to a solo experience – although, admittedly in this circumstance, not much attention is supposed to be paid to what’s being streamed on screen. Being an introvert is not a trend, of course, but if it’s being presented as a cool personality “style,” then someone somewhere will try to emulate it or, at the very least, take advantage of the rise of introvert awareness. One could say that Netflix is latching on to the idea of introversion being normalized in society as a way to justify binge-watching behavior. For those of us who are already introverts, honestly, this feels a little short-sighted at best, and irritating at worst.

Netflix, it seems, has incorporated parts of the introvert stereotype into their user persona, but their marketed brand persona also embodies someone who gleefully clicks the tempting “Watch next episode” button, regardless of cost, staying up late watching hours and hours of content, often risking his or her own personal health and social life. Of course the drive to Netflix-binge has little to do with introversion, and more to do with addictive behavior, impulse-control, and social pressure – you must watch an entire season of a show in one weekend, or one night, so that you can keep up with water cooler conversations on Monday.

But whatever. I’m still totally counting the days until the next season of Orange is the New Black comes out.

 

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