Word Watch 2013: Binge-watch

In terms of media consumption, 2013 has been an eventful year. Thanks to the ease of on-demand video streaming on sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video, film and video lovers have gravitated toward a few increasingly useful words to describe their novel viewing habits. One word on the rise this year is binge-watch.

In our next update, Dictionary.com will define binge-watch as: “to watch (multiple videos, episodes of a TV show, etc.) in one sitting or over a short period of time.” Before on-demand video-streaming technology became widespread, binge-watching still existed, but with a much higher price tag; you could buy DVDs of entire seasons of TV shows, but this practice was cost-prohibitive for many. Now millions of users have access to hundreds of shows to watch without leaving their home for under $10 a month.

Streaming services such as Netflix encourage binge-watching by releasing all the episodes of their original series at the same time. This was the case with the highly anticipated new season of Arrested Development, which many fans planned to watch all in one sitting. Further easing binge-watching, Netflix automatically plays the next episode of a series if the user takes no action. This viewing pattern is parodied in Portlandia’s “One More Episode,” when a couple takes binge-watching to an extreme (even if their method of binge-watching is via old-fashioned DVDs).

The term binge-watch originates from the term binge, which in some English dialects meant “to soak a wooden vessel to prevent it from leaking.” By the mid-1800s, binge could be used metaphorically to describe a drinking spree, which led to the term binge drinking about a hundred years later. While binge drinker was the first use of binge- in a compound, other terms soon followed. Binge eating came along in the late 1950s, and has soared in usage since the 1980s.

Binge-watching isn’t the only term to describe new media-consumption habits. There’s power-streaming, which refers specifically to the streaming of videos online. Additionally, there’s marathoning, or watching a show marathon-style. Starting in the late 1940s, TV marathons existed, but they were usually call-in charity drives. By the late ’70s and early ’80s, people could binge-watch TV and movie marathons, though viewers had no power over the programming. One Netflix executive told the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t like the term binge because of its negative connotations of excess; instead he prefers marathon, which, to him “sounds more celebratory.” What’s your preferred way to refer to this popular pattern of media consumption? Do you think the word binge-watch is here to stay?

Our next installment of Word Watch 2013 explores a term that bounced into the spotlight with help of a former Disney superstar. Can you guess which word we’re talking about?