While recently watching the newest season of Dexter: New Blood, I realised that the series hadn’t finished airing. This meant waiting another week for the finale episode and it made me feel both lost and deeply upset. Followed immediately by the realisation of how conditioned I’ve become to automatically expect autoplay and a constant stream of service. With data being as fast as it is we’re living in what service providers call “An unaltered experience”.
We’ve gotten so used to streaming and everything being available on-demand that we’ve forgotten how to savour each episode. And suddenly years of lengthy plots and months of multiple story timelines are gone in a fraction of a night. We’re watching in hyperspeed and I’m now wondering if I need to slow down.
To be clear, this is not an argument against binge-watching or calling out any streaming service in particular
It is instead a request for control over the binge-watching experience to default to the user. Why not let users set their own pace? Rather than autoplay be the default. It’s appalling that some providers have only 3 seconds to opt-out before the next episode begins. Seems to me like an infinite loop of self-distraction.
What’s even more appalling is my end of 2021 review on the TV Showtime app. If we combine all that I have watched to date and played them back to back, it would be 1 YEAR of my life?! I’m shook. That makes it 32 years in chronological age + 1 year in pure TV TIME!
Is binge-watching and ticking it off my list more like gratification or a sense of achievement for me? It can be a wormhole to someone that loves lists (me) and believes in checking everything off it quite efficiently (me). It’s starting to feel like a fine line between a serotonin addiction and escapism.
These platforms are engineered to be addictive
I believe how much we binge on a particular show raises its stakes in how successful it is. According to a Reddit discussion, the product team that developed the “autoplay” option at Netflix had two KPI’s all new features were checked against: retention and hours watched. And while they continue to scientifically engineer this to be an addictive experience so do product teams at most popular snack brands like Doritos.
The latter makes more sense to me. The more Doritos I eat, the more money they make. However, I still haven’t been able to understand why streaming services benefit from auto-playing because you’re not selling anything, you’re just delivering content – so why does auto-playing, which presumably has an additional cost for bandwidth, benefit the company?
Doesn’t binging also mean I’m burning through the content?
I like to watch at a faster rate, and as a result service providers have to spend more money to stock more shows, rotate their catalogue and create original content. It just seems so weird that streaming services would be optimising for “hours watched”, and I’d love to learn from someone more on the inside, why they would do that. I understand why video platforms like YouTube and social media channels like Facebook optimise for “engagement” as 1) their revenue is based on advertisements and 2) they spread using network effects; neither of these is true for streaming services though.
Perhaps it just increases brand loyalty and if you’re on one platform chances are you aren’t on the others? At the end of the month, the customer may think about how much they use a TV provider and not the other, and decide to keep one based purely on hours spent on one over the other.
Services like Netflix know there’s a problem at hand and a lawsuit on the grounds of wellness waiting to happen, and you’ll have noticed how “Are you still watching” has evolved to more than Yes and No (new options still stacked in their favour).
Most services provide the option to disable auto-play
This feature is often hard to find! The link for Netflix’s disable-autoplay settings is at the very bottom of the Your Account page, under “Playback Settings.”; Amazon has multiple links to make the option available, but buries it within the user preferences. Here’s a helpful blog on How to: Turn off autoplay on Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video
When auto-play is disabled on streaming services, it puts the ball in your court and allows you to do the following things rather than binge-watching:
- Pause for a moment, and take in what you just watched.
- Actually remember what you just watched.
- Decide if you want to watch more.
Most services by this point have estimated that the streaming culture is just not sustainable and are testing features like sleep timers or have invested billions and billions of dollars in original content. Some have taken this a step further and created pop-up and in-person immersive experiences you can pay for like Money Heist.
A question for another day: How damaging is streaming – and digital content in general? Is it unsustainable just for my lifestyle or the planet too?
Please comment below if you liked this article on binge-watching. I intend to write more about my digital wellbeing journey HERE in the coming months 🙂