Indians may have come late to the binge-watching party a little later than the West, but we're making up for lost time, says Shuma Raha.
New reports suggest that we are the fastest in the world when it came to binge-watching popular shows.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
When Reed Hastings, chief executive officer, of video streaming service Netflix, visited India last month, there were reports that Indians were the fastest in the world when it came to binge-watching popular shows such as Narcos or Jessica Jones. Whereas the global average was four days, Indians were likely to gobble up multiple episodes of such television series in three days.
I received this news with the joy addicts feel when they come upon other addicts.
For in the last few months I've gorged on shows like The Crown, The Good Wife, The Fall, Black Mirror, Orange Is the New Black and much else on Netflix.
I've made a giant's meal of them, consuming several episodes of a single show (along with gazillions of data) in one sitting. When I've finally switched off the TV and thrown down the remote at two in the morning, it wasn't guilt that made me do it. Nor the realisation that I had become a hyper-vegetative couch potato. It was my eyes -- they were smarting.
The term binge-watching, or watching three or more episodes of a TV show at one go, was the runner up in Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2013. (The honour went to "selfie" that year.)
Bingeing on popular shows via DVD sets or video-on-demand services such as Netflix or Hulu was already big in the West by then.
Indians have come late to the party. Paid video streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime were launched in India only in 2016, while Hotstar debuted the year before.
But we're making up for lost time.
In the living rooms of affluent Indian digital animals, binge-watching is the cool new talking point. If you're blessed with the holy trinity of high-speed broadband, internet TV and paid video-on-demand, you'd be awfully square if you didn't have a go at it.
On social media people ask for "recos" for a good show to binge on. Friends express their frustration when they burn through a show's episodes and find there's no next season to turn to.
Confession: I had a serious case of the blues after I binge-watched The Fall, a crime series starring the still-stunning Gillian Anderson, and then found I'd run out of episodes to watch.
According to Deloitte's 2017 Digital Democracy Survey, 73 per cent of US consumers say they have binge-watched video content.
A 2013 Netflix survey of 1,500 television streamers in the US had put the figure at 61 per cent.
Clearly, the practice of marathon TV watching is growing by leaps and bounds.
It's also changing the cultural behaviour around television viewing.
TV shows that air once a week have traditionally ridden on viewers' feeling of anticipation, of eagerly waiting for the next bit of the unfolding arc of the story. However, Netflix has overturned that paradigm by releasing full season episodes of its own shows all at once.
It's tailor-made for a generation that seeks instant gratification. In other words, it's tailor-made for binge-watching -- you can sink your teeth into fat chunks of the story (minus irritating commercials) rather than take it one measly dose at a time.
So, whether it is Netflix originals like The Crown or Narcos, or hit shows like Breaking Bad that you may have missed in the past, you can choose when to watch them and how much. Sometimes that might mean getting into your pyjamas and settling down for an all-nighter.
There has been the usual hand-wringing over binge-watching, of course.
That it's unhealthy is a no-brainer. Who said sitting glued to the television for long hours was great for your fitness? However, studies have also tried to show that it's often the lonely and the depressed who indulge in marathon sessions of TV watching.
That may or may not be true. But it certainly goes well with the whiff of disparagement that hangs over the act of binge-watching. The lack of self-control implicit in the idea of bingeing (food or drink) automatically makes it seem out of line. Displaying a prodigal appetite for anything never earned you social brownie points.
In the 19th century, the novels of writers such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Mark Twain and many others used to be serialised in newspapers and magazines. People read their works one chapter at a time before they took to reading entire books.
Binge-watching enthusiasts say that a similar process is at work here, and that we are graduating from the drip-drip of episodic television entertainment to consuming several chapters or episodes at once. It's like reading a book, don't you know?
Only, it isn't.
Our cultural and intellectual snobbery paints television as low brow -- books, not so. Hence, ploughing through hours of internet television is culturally suspect -- staying up late reading (even if it's the latest Dan Brown page-turner) not so.
Me, I'm all for binge-watching. But let's hope we can also put in a spot of "binge-reading" now and then. Let that ancient pastime not be forgotten in the irresistible lure of "autoplay" unspooling episode after episode of a slick television show.