What’s Better: Binge-Watching TV or Movies?

Quite some time ago (maybe 1-3 years ago?), I remember Matt Yglesias writing something about how movies were far superior to TV shows. That opinion has stuck with me for a while. It’s not that I agreed or disagreed, but I found the idea curious. With the explosion of binge-watching, I wondered if Matt Yglesias still thinks that movies were far superior to TV shows.

That is, when you can watch 3-5 hours of a TV show and really get into the intricacies of the plot in one sitting, does that somehow make it better than a 1.5- to 2-hour movie?

More recently, there’ve been a couple of interesting articles about movies and binge-watching. The first, on movies, discusses how going to the movies is a shared experience and how that might be dying out. The author explains that fewer people are going to the movies, even though ticket sales are at an all-time high (increased prices). She closes by saying that she thinks only a limited number of movies will debut in the theatre and the rest will go straight to video.

I think she’s right — the movies as a shared experience is dying out. However, I don’t think “shared experiences” are dying out. Instead, I think they’re moving away from the movies to other events like the one the author mentions, but not in the same context, the Oscars. Or perhaps the Superbowl is another good example. More than that, I wonder if we’re substituting the shared collective experience of going to the movies for binge-watching.

The second article, on binge-watching, argued that humans are wired to binge-watch. With the rise of online video streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (Prime), it’s not surprising that people are spending more time watching videos online and at home than they are going out to the theatre. I would posit that as more people binge-watch, the more other people also want to binge-watch.

Think about shows like House of Cards or Orange is the New  Black. These shows were released all at once on a Friday. As a result, some people will have watched the whole season before going back to work on Monday. As a way to stay “part of the conversation,” some people may feel compelled to watch the whole season, too. Given that we’re already wired to binge-watch, it’s not surprising that this might become self-reinforcing. 

This leads me to my argument that binge-watching might be replacing movie-going as the norm when it comes to shared experiences. After you’ve binge-watched House of Cards or some other series, maybe you start binge-watching that series that you never got into when it was on TV (Lost? Frasier? The West Wing?). There are a lot of series that are on Netflix and there are also lots of series on some of the other online streaming sites.

After having a baby fall asleep on my lap/shoulder night after night, I think my vote might be for binge-watching.

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2 responses to “What’s Better: Binge-Watching TV or Movies?

  1. Pingback: Should We Be Reading Instead of Binge-Watching? | Jeremiah Stanghini

  2. Pingback: The “Real” Purpose of TV (& Movies): Education, Inspiration, and Storytelling, Part 2 | Jeremiah Stanghini

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