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Forget appointment viewing. Binge-watching appears to be the new norm when it comes to television consumption.
In a new Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll, conducted Oct. 25-26 from a national sample of 2,044 adults, a majority of TV audiences prefer a series to be released a season at a time, while only one-third surveyed prefer weekly, episodic TV. Live TV, however, still remains popular, as four in 10 TV viewers say they watch shows live, compared to roughly 30 percent who watch them on-demand.
“For all the talk of live TV being dead, it definitely isn’t. But if you’re looking into the crystal ball of what is the future of consuming television content is, this is a pretty clear signal,” says Morning Consult vp Jeff Cartwright, who notes of the live-TV age breakdown that 72 percent of boomers say they watch it every day, compared to only 40 percent among millennials. “What you’re seeing is live TV become less and less important to these folks, while having content on-demand is way more important.”
The cultural phenomenon that is binge-watching became mainstream when streaming services like Amazon, Hulu and — most notably — Netflix established themselves as go-to destinations for original content. “Even before Netflix started releasing shows in this manner, there was already a precursor and a little bit of conditioning with the whole idea of time-shifting and DVRs,” says eMarketer analyst Paul Verna. “But it did seem like a very radical idea at the time.”
Netflix bet big on the strategy when it released all episodes of House of Cards at once in 2013. So it’s only fitting that 24 percent of those surveyed say that they plan to binge-watch the new and final season of the drama starring Robin Wright. Other Netflix series generating binge-watching interest are Daredevil (28 percent), Top Chef and Making a Murderer (27 percent each), according to the poll. “Like a lot of things that Netflix has done, it wasn’t clear that it would catch on,” adds Verna, “but it did in a major way.”
Unsurprisingly, the rapid method of consuming content is more appealing to younger Americans. In fact, 76 percent of TV watchers ages 18 to 29 said they preferred bingeing, compared to 65 percent of viewers ages 30 to 44, 50 percent of viewers ages 44 to 54 and 45 percent of viewers ages 55 to 64. The older the viewer, the less likely they are to enjoy binge-watching — except for the eldest age group of 65-and-over, of which there was a slight uptick (51 percent, meaning a 6 percent increase compared to the closest age range) in binge-watching preferences.
Bingeing has not only become an increasingly common practice in American households, the frequency with which viewers do so has shot up. Of those polled, 15 percent say that they binge-watch on a daily basis. Young Americans ages 18 to 29 (26 percent) and ages 30 to 44 (17 percent), along with Hispanics (27 percent), are the most likely to say they binge-watch on a daily basis. That number compares to 28 percent who say they binge several times per week. In addition, 17 percent binge weekly, 14 percent binge several times per month, 9 percent binge monthly and 10 percent binge less often than monthly.
“What you’re seeing here is people are consuming that content and they’re consuming it really quickly. So this play of more and more content, there’s an audience for it,” says Cartwright. “People are looking for high-level content they can consume and get addicted to.”
When viewers do binge, they’re most likely to watch at least two or three episodes at a time (28 percent say so), while 21 percent acknowledge they watch four episodes at once and 22 percent admit to watching five or more. Of course, binge-watching is the highest among young adults (ages 18 to 29) as 43 percent of them say they watch at least five episodes at a time. At that rate, finishing a season of a show doesn’t take too long. In total, 16 percent of viewers are more likely to say it takes three to four days to complete a season, with 15 percent saying it’s more likely to be seven to 10 days.
So why, exactly, are viewers increasingly opting to binge? People are most likely to say they do so because they want to see more of the story (87 percent), while 81 percent say it’s because they like the cast and 54 percent say they it is to avoid spoilers. “The whole idea of, like, the water-cooler moment seems to have completely gone away, and now it’s all about trying to not give away spoilers because you have no idea at what point somebody else is in any given show,” says Verna. Interestingly, dramas, which are often more plot-driven and therefore at a greater risk of being spoiled, are binge-watched slightly more (at 27 percent) than comedies (17 percent).
But the tendency to binge doesn’t necessarily come without any drawbacks. One-sixth of those surveyed say they feel guilty about binge-watching, with millennials, in particular, being the most likely to feel guilty (24 percent say they do). Nearly 30 percent acknowledge having watched an entire season of a show within 24 hours of its release, with a little over half saying they’ve done so within a week. That often means staying up past their normal bedtime to finish episodes (86 percent cop to this). And over half of those surveyed admit to staying up all night to watch a show. As Verna sums it up, “There’s an implicit recognition that people want to control their viewing experience on just about every level.”
The Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll was conducted from Oct. 25 to Oct. 26 from a national sample of 2,044 adults with a margin of error of 2 percent.
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