The Netflix Epidemic



Story by Heather Matley

For fifteen straight hours the world was dead to Riley Rose Smothers: The only reality that mattered was that of Desperate Housewives, a television show available on Netflix.

A decade ago, this style of television consumption – binge-watching – might have been not only considered strange by some people, but also nearly impossible.  For the current college generation, this is the new normal. 

With more than two billion hours of content available, students have gained an all-access pass to endless entertainment that fits the varying tastes of each individual.  In addition, streaming allows consumers to watch anything from start to finish without commercials or week-long waits between episodes.  But with the gain of this all-access pass, students may have given up more of their time than they were counting on.

“I think (Netflix) is the best thing to ever have happened to this country and I don’t say things like that often,” Smothers, a freshman theatre performance major, said.

With such an attitude of reverence placed on the TV streaming alternative by college students like Smothers, some people argue it may be becoming difficult to distinguish healthy from unhealthy viewing behavior, while others disagree.

“I don’t feel bad about [binge-watching Desperate Housewives,] and at that point I’d already seen Desperate Housewives all the way through – I just wanted to watch it again,” she said.

In 2015 Netflix, with its content available to over 57 million members, plans to spend over $3 billion on new content for members.  In addition, it plans to spend over $500 million on technology development to improve its services and over $600 million in marketing. 

The company’s efforts have not been fruitless: apart from making “binge-watch” an everyday phrase, studies have shown a dramatic increase in online television consumption.

“Fifty-percent of adults now identify as binge-viewers, meaning they're watching multiple episodes of a TV show back-to-back, according to a new study of 1,000 adults with pay TV subscriptions released by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The percentage was even higher for those under 35,” wrote Damon Beres in his article for The Huffington Post, “Half Of All Adult Americans Now Admit To Binge-Watching TV.”

In a survey conducted on Chapman’s campus with 100 students 12 percent reported spending two hours or less per week on Netflix, 71 percent reported between two and 10 hours per week, and 17 percent said they spent more than 10 hours a week on Netflix.

There are many factors that make Netflix so addicting to the average college student, and Netflix’s own website sums up one of these factors.

“People’s tastes are very broad, even in a single market.   The Internet allows us to offer a wide selection, and to have our user-interface quickly learn and make recommendations based upon each individual's tastes,” it states.

While conforming content to users’ tastes is a big part of why college students are drawn to Netflix, television writing and producing professor Ross Brown argues there’s much more to it than that.

“It’s economical and provides what you want,” said Brown.

Brown added that he joined Netflix in order to watch House of Cards. After viewing the first episode he said, “This is crack.  This is the most addictive thing in the world.”

Brown believes that the American culture is evolving in a way that promotes binge-watching.

“I think that the world is becoming more and more of an on-demand world and I think that people are much more internet-oriented,” Brown said. 

“The more people that have had the experience of binge viewing shows and liked it, the more they become used the way they consume television,” he added.

He said that he sees no way for Netflix consumption to not continue growing.

Chapman students are in general agreement with Brown: good or bad, this is not a service that appears to be going away any time soon.

“I personally love Netflix. In the dorms, I don't have access to television, and so Netflix is the way that I keep that daily dose of mindless entertainment present,” said freshman theatre and film studies double major Jessica Johnson.

While it seems to be an integral part of Chapman, some students argue that sometimes the consequences of the service on a college campus can outweigh the benefits, while others disagree.

“Although this hasn't really happened to me due to my short attention span, I've seen it have a negative impact on college students who prefer to stay inside and binge watch,” said Boren. 

Freshman business and psychology double major Madeline Hodge said, “I do think it can be a distraction to any college student looking to get out of work, but I wouldn't give it up.”

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