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Digital Life

Time to go on a diet from binge-watching TV?

There is no shortage of digital video content available to consumers due in part to services like Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, iTunes, Hulu, and more. With these video-on-demand services it's easy for someone to quickly catch up on a current drama or comedy show. Even better is that they're accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, making it easy to begin a show on your couch and keep watching in bed. But does all that binging lead to a better viewing experience?

If you aren't familiar with the term binge-watching, it refers to the act of watching an entire TV show from the beginning to its current point or end, in a continuous manner. So rather than dealing with cliffhangers, week-long breaks, and season hiatuses, you can watch multiple episodes right in a row for hours. This isn't something totally new with streaming video services -- when TV shows were released on DVD it provided a way for consumers to partake in binging. All internet-based streaming services have done is made it easier.

In a 2011 Washington Post article, Scott Eidler says binge watching is "transforming the landscape of television production and consumption." Eidler went on to interview a few college students about their binge habits and one student managed to watch 49 episodes of Lost in just two weeks, while another student consumed 120 episodes of How I Met Your Mother in just four weeks. Over at New York Magazine, Emily Nussbaum writes about her binge-watching experience with Breaking Bad, saying it's "probably the purest way to watch a great series." In same breath she says, "if everyone watched this way, no great series would make it past the first season."

While some may be championing binge-watching, others feel it takes away from truly experiencing a show. Todd VanDerWerff of the A.V. Club talks at length about Netflix's current programming model that revolves around binge-watching. He notes that when you binge on a TV show your perception of the show is different from those who watch week-to-week, saying that "Individual episodes' flaws become magnified when viewers have a week between episodes to stew over them, but in the middle of a binge, those flaws are diminished, simply because it's always time to move onto the next thing." Jim Pagels of Slate agrees with this sentiment in his piece, "Stop Binge-Watching TV." A few different points are discussed as to why binge viewing is bad, one example Pagel puts forward is that an individual episode can have its own special integrity and that by simply moving onto the next episode, you devalue those special episodes.

There are both pros and cons to each side of binge-watching, but in the end it really depends on the series and your situation. While binge-watching serves as a way to quickly catch up on a new show, it can also devalue the show's impact. Consider the pace and direction of a program after a few episodes and that should help to determine just how much you binge. A dense show like Breaking Bad may be better suited as a two-to-three-episode-per-night show, whereas a more fun show like The Office can work better in three or four hour sprints.

Photo: Wonderlane