Oct 30 • 4 min read

How many Friday afternoon office conversations go a little something like this?

“What are your plans for the weekend?” “We’re hoping to binge the new season of ‘Ozark.’ We’ve been waiting for this to drop on Netflix for months.”

But binge-watching, by definition, is not supposed to be a planned activity. It’s supposed to be impulsive.

“It’s thought to be something done for pleasure and something that’s done because you just can’t control yourself from watching another and then another episode,” says Vinod Venkatraman, associate professor in marketing and director of the Center for Applied Research in Decision Making at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

Yet, despite that widespread belief, recent research from Venkatraman and his colleagues Joy Lu, assistant professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University, and Uma Karmarkar, assistant professor of marketing at the University of California, San Diego, shows that binge-watching is not an impulse. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. A working draft of their research titled “Planning to Binge: How Consumers Choose to Allocate Media Viewing Time” analyzes binge-watching as a concept, the reasons why people binge-watch and what makes a show more likely to be viewed in that format. The draft is now available through the Social Science Research Network.

“The findings seemed to go against the general expectation of what we think of when we hear the term, ‘binge.’ We found that in many cases, it is actually a planned behavior. People will say, ‘I have time upcoming this weekend, so I want to binge a show,’” Venkatraman says.

After determining that binge-watching is indeed a planned activity, the group began its deep dive into the question of why a person chooses to binge. They recruited 120 participants in the U.S. on Amazon’s crowdsourcing tool, Mechanical Turk. In exchange for a small monetary reward, the participants reviewed how likely they were to watch a show, depending on whether its episodes are sequential or can be viewed independently of one another.

“What we found was that the more sequential a show is, the more likely you are to binge-watch it,” Venkatraman says. “However, in an additional survey with 200 participants, we also found that many people would prefer to wait until all episodes of a sequential show are released and then watch them together.”

Overall, 75% of that survey’s participants noted that they would rather delay consumption, so they could instead binge-watch a sequential show. In an additional follow-up survey, about two-thirds of the participants noted that they would actually pay money to have access to all of a sequential show’s episodes together, so they would have the option to binge-watch.

For television executives, the implications of the study are considerable. They could potentially create a new revenue stream by offering all of a show’s episodes to consumers at an additional price, instead of forcing them to wait week to week.

Venkatraman and his peers took the study further to test whether these findings extended beyond media consumption to online classes—a marketing one and an accounting one. For the marketing course, each specific lecture could be viewed independently. In comparison, every lecture in the accounting class built off the one that preceded it.

Their findings aligned with what they found in regard to binge-watching for media content. For the accounting class, participants would have preferred to have access to all of the lectures at once. For the marketing class, the availability of all classes at once was more of a moot point. These findings were true both when students were planning their schedule for these courses as well as the actual consumption patterns of data obtained through a popular online platform.

“I think the key takeaway here is that binge-watching is not really binge-watching as the term is often used,” Venkatraman says. “When you think of a binge, it was never meant to be a planned behavior, but more of an impulsive in-the-moment thing. Knowing this, it will be interesting to see how marketers continue to capitalize on the trend in the years to come. We know that in many instances, a consumer’s preference is to binge-watch. I expect that that will only increase in the future.”

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