Roxanne Tellier – WannaNetflix and Chill?

Roxanne

YAY! Season two of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt just got released on Netflix! That’s it! I’m set for … ummm .. 7 or 8 hours.13 episodes ..yumyumyum!

Except. How come this is not as much fun as I thought it would be?

Yawn. Here we go again. Yeah, I’ll have fun binging on Kimmy … I love that chick. But … there’s something missing in this binging.

unbreakable kimmy

It’s great in the way that getting completely off your face on champagne is great; giddy-making at the time, completely nauseating the next day. You and your fave diversion spend extended ‘me time’ together, but then it’s over, maybe for another year.

Essentially, binge watching is a commercial easement, not an emotional salve.

Any TV show has a shelf life. If the show gets past the 3 or 4 season mark, viewers start to get bored, anticipating what will happen next. This is ‘jump the shark time,’ when the only thing left to do is have the Fonz waterski in his leather jacket. It’s a sad state of affairs.

xlrDyPV

An exception seems to be soap operas, which, although recycling the same plots incessantly, have some of the most loyal viewers of all.

There are links to be found between binge-watching TV series and feelings of depression and loneliness. – which come to think of it, may well apply to the daily soap opera devotees as well, who refer to the programs as ‘my stories’ and cannot disassociate the actions of the characters from the actors.

friends memeThe actors in the soaps and sitcoms are psyched to have the fame, and the dollar negotiation power (see Friends) but even they eventually can’t stomach forever being a Summer or a Phoebe.

Binging on anything is addictive behaviour, and binge watching has its own physical complications. Fatigue and obesity from long stretches of immobility top the list, but less obvious complications begin to arise when the itch to watch episodes degenerates into compulsion.

As one doctor noted, “Prolonged sitting tends to increase insulin levels, which is the hormone that promotes fat storage and weight gain… Being inactive for long periods of time also raises the risk of a slew of health concerns including metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.”

Dr. Glatter added that he’s had patients come into the emergency room with dizziness and symptoms that almost mirror vertigo from prolonged screen time.

alejandro 94 hoursOne group of intrepid and devoted binge watchers opted to vie for the Guinness Book of World Records title for longest binge watch. Alejandro Fragoso watched TV for 94 hours straight.  The rules: Participants could not break eye contact with the screen, they received a five-minute break for each hour of continuous television they watched and they were not allowed to engage in prolonged conversation with anybody else in the room.

The group’s experience allowed for behavioural neuroscientist and cognition expert at The Florey InstituteDr. Jess Nithianantharajah, to weigh in on prolonged viewing.

“Doing the same activity over and over sees certain parts of the brain activated, but the other parts will be less stimulated. “That means you’re taking away the opportunity to embark in other activities that can more widely activate the brain. Your brain is a muscle, so it needs to be worked differently, like all the other parts of your body. Varied exercises are the key.”

Dr. Nithianantharajah would advise against prolonged exposure to the same shows, over and over.

There’s a psychological effect as well. Some neuro-scientists say binge-watching is a neurological compulsion, the chemical equivalent of a trance in the brain, brought on by emotions provoked by compelling stories.

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Truly addicted viewers may start to neglect work and relationship commitments. The binging becomes uncontrollable, with the viewer unable to resist watching the next episode, and the next, particularly in cases where they were already the kind of person who used addictions of any sort to make them feel better about themselves.

The stated excuse may be nothing more than, “I love TV but hate waiting for episodic TV.” But what’s really going on in continual binge watching is a withdrawal from reality and society. TV morphs from being a diversion to a compulsion; from the appointment TV that engendered water cooler discussion to a private indulgence; from a cultural ritual to a lost weekend of marathon viewing. From “Who killed J.R.? to “no spoilers please!”

10-cassettes-VHSThe trend has been a while in the making.  In the beginning, the television industry, like the movie industry, was stunned when profits surged over the first available and effective mass-media formats. Suddenly, classic TV, long relegated to sub-channels and late night filler, had new life on VHS or DVD.

But as time-shifting emerged, fuelled by programmable recording, and took prevalence, advertising revenue changed as well. Advertisers want a highly targeted audience; with recorded viewing, those audiences were spread across the board, and often zapped out any commercials that might slip through.

TV executives scoffed when Netflix and Hulu first appeared. After all, they thought, no one’s going to want to watch a show on a tiny computer screen! And they were wrong again. Although larger and generally affordable flat screen TV ‘s with more and more features came on the market, many audiences were just as comfortable viewing whatever was available on their tablets, sans any advertising at all.

binge smack

Low cost, convenience, and better broadband completely altered the media industry as we knew it. Why buy an entire season of “House” on an expensive DVD, when you could just screen the season on Netflix, and not even have to store the case, at about the same price of one big-screen movie admission?

The execs are losing it as the impact of video streaming compounds. On the one hand … long tail payoff on content. The profits from syndication and rebroadcast rights are flowing.  On the other hand, where’d all the advertisers go? How do you control buyers’ eyes? What is the future for Pay-TV if Netflix, Hulu and now Amazon are grabbing viewers by the millions?

new golden age of TV

And who’d have guessed that first Netflix, and now Amazon, would develop their own shows to capture and duplicate the broadcast network model? It’s like the Wild West out there – and so far, the viewers are enjoying the Gold Rush.

Meanwhile, Hollywood has taken an interesting approach to declining paid movie admissions. The biggest projects of the last decade or so have been targeted to escapism and superhero fans, guaranteed to flood the movie houses for at least the first few weeks. Prices have risen astronomically (remember $2 Tuesdays at the Cineplex’s?) and first run cinemas load up their schedule with proven winners.

The ‘Golden Age’ of film, when admission stayed high, even during the Depression years, has given way to an inclusive – and expensive – experience where the emphasis is on getting the consumer in, selling them over-priced concession rubbish, and then turfing out the mind and belly numbed in order to get the next block of viewers in.

nemoIn response to an audience decline, film producers now rely on a handful of ‘name’ actors, ‘blockbusters,’ 3-D and IMAX screenings, and increasingly higher priced admittance. And as costs rise, yet more viewers are ready to take a pass on the movie night experience, instead going online for their entertainment fix.

Rumblings in the biz are that the execs, in denial of losing the masses, are trending towards re-branding the tradition of movie going into a more exclusive marquee, ‘premium’ experience. Hey, if the masses don’t want you, go for the elite! Less hassle, more dough. They’re willing to throw resources at 3-D and IMAX technology, and plusher theatres to ‘upgrade’ the experience and justify ever more costly tickets, rather than partner with newer tech companies that actually know what the people want, and how to give it to them.

Or they could make better movies and drop prices in an effort to get audiences back, and those sales revved. While they dither, we’ll be at home, binging on our own food and beverages, and enjoying the widest selection of TV and movie choices ever available.

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Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Roxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. She has also been a vocalist with many acts, including Tangents, Lady, Performer, Mambo Jimi, and Delta Tango. In 2013 she co-hosted Bob Segarini’s podcast, The Bobcast, and, along with Bobert, will continue to seek out and destroy the people who cancelled ‘Bunheads’. 

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