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The Dangers of Binge Watching — For Hulu and Maybe You

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Apr 20, 2016

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huluBinge watching television — taking in a season of “Mad Men” or “Silicon Valley” in a day or two — has become a new pastime, made tempting by streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

Content providers often seem to cater to bingers, as when Netflix uploads an entire season of “House of Cards” all at once. But the rise of binge watching poses risks for streaming services, according to new research by Wendy W. Moe, marketing professor at Smith.

“From a business perspective, binge watching is not necessarily behavior that content-providers want to encourage,” Moe says.

For one thing, binge watchers are less likely than bingers to engage with advertisements, a tendency that, if it became widespread, could undermine the business model of some streaming services.

In a working paper, Moe and a co-author from Emory University examined the behavior of 10,067 registered Hulu viewers from late February 2009 through June 2009. The dataset included 11,757 viewing sessions, with 3.87 episodes viewed per session. A quarter of people in the sample watched a daunting 10 or more episodes at a time.

Hulu serves up ads, and the researchers looked at how often different types of viewers clicked on them. Binge watchers were less likely to click on ads in general, and the gap grew as the intensity of the binging session grew.

Bingers clicked on a mere 0.45 percent of ads during binge sessions that included a series finale, for example, which was roughly half their typical rate. Non-bingers tended to click on ads at a rate of 1 percent to 1.1 percent, regardless of whether their session included a finale.  

Binge viewers react differently than non-bingers to finales in other ways, too. After sessions that included a finale, bingers tend to take a break from television watching, at least by their heavy-consumption standards, acting as though they need a rest.

Non-bingers, in contrast, stick with their usual television watching patterns even after taking in a climactic finale. /CS/