binge-watching-3

Binge Britain and deferred gratification

This is a big month in the Clay-White household. My eldest daughter is about to become a teenager and I find myself suddenly alert to any and all news stories about teenagers. These stories stalk me in threatening ways across all media. Teenage pregnancies have shot up again apparently after falling for some time.  But what happened to deferred gratification I cry?  Why can’t they wait? They have no patience. They’re so demanding. And so I get to Netflix.

Netflix has done a commendable PR job in recent months off the back of its investment in re-making acclaimed TV series which it makes available all in one go. I’ve blogged before about what this means for TV (answer: not much) but one of the themes that has emerged is one of bingeing: people can now binge on an entire series in one go and not have to wait for a week to pass between each episode.

It has always struck me as odd that no one points out that this is hardly a new behaviour. People have been able to binge on TV series for ages with things called DVD box sets. Netflix is essentially doing TV series straight to DVD but without the packaging. Nonetheless, cue lots of apocalyptic ‘end of the way we watch TV forever’ headlines none of which explains why, when people have this ability to watch things without waiting, they seem content to wait for, er, content. Witness the brilliant Broadchurch which was scheduled across 8 weeks on ITV1 and built audience as it went along.

At the heart of this is the fact that people actually enjoy deferred gratification. They like waiting – and sharing the wait and the anticipation with other people. They also, by definition, can’t binge all the time. And who has the time to binge much anyway? If you’ve got kids (after your teenage pregnancies of course) then snuggling up on the sofa on Saturday morning and gorging on 5 episodes of something is unlikely to happen.

Thinkbox recently identified the 6 reasons we watch TV. Our ‘Screen Life: TV in demand’ research identified them as to unwind, comfort, connect, experience, escape, and indulge. I won’t go on about the research here – even though it is awesome – but there was one fact it threw up that demonstrated why bingeing is not a threat to watching live TV and explains why it continues to thrive.

To connect – that is the need for a sense of ‘anchoring’ and to feel a sense of connection to society and individuals within it, to time or to place – emerged as the most important reason to watch TV for the younger 18-24s audience in our sample of heavy VOD viewers. 28% of their viewing was in order to connect – almost double the average from the research sample (15%).

And when given a choice between having the option to download a new series they liked in one go or waiting to watch it week by week on live TV, 73% of the 18-24s said they prefer to watch it week by week. They didn’t want to binge even though they could because if they wait it increases the pleasure and likelihood of sharing it with everyone else. Bingeing is not great for connecting. We were quite surprised they knew this about themselves but it goes to show that, for some things, young people are more than happy to wait.


  • Lindsey Clay
    Lindsey Clay
    CEO, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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