Streaming services and students: the allure of binge-watching

The homepage of Netflix, currently featuring the original series "Luke Cage," on Oct. 5. (Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily)

With its recent renewal for a second season, “Stranger Things” (2016) is poised to join an already extensive lineup of formidable titles, including “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (2015-present), “Narcos” (2015-present), “BoJack Horseman” (2014-present) and others. Looking back, then, it is astounding to realize that ten years ago, the idea of a service that streamed content to its viewers was something of the future, a possibility but not yet a realized dream. Netflix still shipped DVDs to subscribers, Blockbuster still had thousands of stores in operation and cable TV was very much alive and kicking.

Just one decade later, the future has arrived and the tables have turned. Netflix is now present in over a third of homes with cable, there are a plethora of options that put television at the viewer’s fingertips and according to USA Today, 2015 saw seven of the top-ten basic cable networks report a decline in prime-time viewership. The age of television on the internet is undeniably upon us.

The social ramifications of online TV are still uncertain, but this much is known: binge-watching, where a viewer watches at least three episodes in a row, is becoming more and more common. This habit is especially present among college students. A study from the Texas Tech University  reports that nine out of 10 American college students use Netflix, and 68 percent of these students binge-watch shows (compared to only 11 percent who binge-watch TV marathons).

It seems easier for college students to default to this style of online viewing, and there is an expectation that because you can watch shows on your phone or laptop by yourself for long periods of time, you should. Watching Netflix in bed by yourself is not viewed as out of the ordinary on college campuses. Quite the opposite, in fact; Netflix themselves state that their members are increasingly choosing to binge-watch their way through a series, averaging an entire season per show in just one week. The company even proclaims that binge-watching is the new normal, and this trend is evidently agreed upon.

Yet why is such a practice regularized, and why does it predominantly affect college students? As with most aspects of technology, convenience is likely the culprit. The trade-off of having something available wherever, whenever is that people take this advantage to the extreme. It is ridiculously easy to give yourself a quick Netflix study-break, only to find yourself hours deep into a marathon. It doesn’t help that many streaming services have features like auto play, that starts one episode right after the previous one has finished. The push towards binge-watching is a perfect storm of captivation and convenience, with a system that draws the user in and then makes it easy for them to continue watching.

No one can deny that Netflix and other services are also actually pushing superior content. From the ever-popular “House of Cards” (2013-present), which is currently renewed for a sixth season, to the aforementioned “Stranger Things,” which was renewed for a second season specifically because of its immediate critical acclaim, Netflix Originals often feature acclaimed actors in intriguing roles. These original shows cover a wide range of genres, featuring characters that college students can relate to, ensuring that there is something for everyone. Netflix knows what people want, and it knows how to regularly put out good content.

A recent example of this is “Marvel’s Luke Cage” (2016), which is the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What makes this show so timely, however, is that it comes at a time when the issue of police brutality is being examined in the United States, and Luke Cage, the show’s eponymous character, is an invulnerable black man that gets frequently shot at while dressed in a hoodie. As actor Mike Colter recently said in an interview with NPR, “It’s a difficult subject but I felt like what we’re doing with the show is saying there can be some heroes in hoodies.”

With quality, relevant shows such as this, there is a reason that streaming services are so successful; they only become a problem when people begin isolating themselves from the world, when all students do is binge-watch by themselves. In moderation, the advent of TV on the internet is not something bad, but something to be admired, something that can fit into the lives of busy people. It is certainly capable of fitting into the lives of busy students. So the next time you decide to binge-watch the latest and greatest hit, consider inviting a friend (or three). Boot up your laptop, enjoy its hypnotic, radiating light in the presence of others, and use the convenience of modern technology to re-connect with those around you over common interests and discuss the world around you.

And, of course, from time to time, binge-watch that new show everyone is talking about (and yes, that new show is “Marvel’s Luke Cage”