Next episode addicts
During Hurricane Sandy last October, Towson students searched for things to do for several days as classes were cancelled.
Some caught up on their homework, others brought out board games. But senior Emily Roenigk sat and watched “Pretty Little Liars” for 48 straight hours with her friends on Netflix.
Like Roenigk, many students are “binge watching” television shows, spending a large amount of time in front of their TV or laptop just watching television shows. But, they aren’t waiting for classes to be cancelled to do it.
This phenomenon of “binge watching” television shows has been brought on by online streaming websites for television shows and movies, such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.
Freshman education major Jake Esposito said he uses Netflix to watch “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.” When the fourth season of “The Walking Dead” premiered on television, it was the first time Esposito hadn’t watched an episode of the show on Netflix.
“If I can’t watch it on TV regularly, I just say ‘Well, I’ll watch it later,” he said. “It’s whenever I have time to do it, I just go on the Internet and watch it. It’s easier than having to wait for a certain day at a certain time.”
In the electronic media and film classes that assistant professor Michael Angelella teaches, he said most of his students classify binge watching as an addiction to a television show.
“You really see more of the binge watching during the holidays because it takes up so much time,” Angelella said. “That’s the thing, it’s an addiction. And to satisfy that addiction you have to totally check out.”
Angelella said there are a number of reasons why the fad has caught on, including the ease of access to the shows, the depth of the characters involved in the shows and the ability to keep up with the shows, ignoring the structured time schedules of shows on cable networks.
“The real advantage of the binge development is that you can go to the end credits of episode nine to the hook of episode 10 without having to ask what happened in the past episode,” he said. “Instead of a roller coaster of drama and starting and stopping, it just goes.”
Fellow EMF professor Dan Mydlack said most of the students in his class enjoy watching shows online because of how busy they are during the day. At night, a student who goes to class and works during the day can watch several episodes of a show.
“The academic life, the way it is now, is based on schedule,” Mydlack said. “It’s the thing that runs a student’s life. There’s an hourly structure to each calendar week, the way we plan courses, the workload, everything. And binge viewing completely disrupts that, so it’s really interesting to see. It’s terrible, but it’s interesting.”
Sophomore Lauren Bradfield said she prefers watching shows online than on cable because she doesn’t have to wait through commercials to get to her favorite shows “Supernatural” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
“You can pause it and come back later and it saves where you left it, regardless if you go watch something else,” she said. “And it’s nice because commercials suck, even though you have to listen to a few commercials online sometimes.”
Most recently, binge watching has caught on because of the success of “Breaking Bad.”
“With ‘Breaking Bad,’ I watched it with my best friend and we would watch two or three episodes every week,” Mydlack said. “When we started we promised to not get ahead of each other, but we both threw down the gauntlet when the finale was approaching and we raced to watch as many episodes as we could.”
Angelella said people became such fans of the show and began binge watching seasons at a time mainly because of the characters.
“You can really have such a complex protagonist in a TV show than a feature film,” he said. “Having an interesting character doesn’t necessarily mean that the protagonist is virtuous. Dexter, Walter White, Tony Soprano are all classic examples. We’re fascinated with these anti-heroes.”
As time goes on, Netflix and the other online providers are only looking to expand further. Netflix is starting to import shows from the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC], according to Angelella, and Netflix is currently looking into getting cable companies Comcast and Suddenlink Communications to carry its streaming services on their cable boxes.
Netflix has also started to produce its own programming, including shows “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”
Having these shows so readily available on various platforms makes for better discussions in classes, Mydlack said, because the students are all on the same page.
“This is the most striking phenomenon that has gone on in a long time. It’s been 10 years or more since I’ve been able to ask who’s watching ‘Show X’ and pretty much everybody has raised their hands,” he said. “I haven’t experienced that since I was in their position 30 years ago when we were watching network television.”
–Megan Flannery and Sam Shelton contributed to this article