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Making Sense of Binge Watching

"House of Cards - Season Two" premiered on "Netflix" Friday, February 21.      

By that Sunday,  two percent of Netflix customers -- that's 634,000 households -- had watched all 13 episodes.

That's 13 hours of one TV show.

That is what we're now calling "binge watching!"

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project" said that the concept of binge watching really isn't new. Cable TV has done marathon broadcasts of programs for quite a while now.

"MTV used to do it with "Dariah" or the "Jackass" series," she explained. "So, it's not completely new. The difference is that now we all can binge watch almost every show we might be attached to."

That, of course, is thanks to internet video delivery services like Netflix or "Hulu"or "Amazon Prime."

And those streaming services make episodic TV programs particularly addictive. Not everybody plans to watch an entire season of a particular program. It just happens.

"The thing about serial narratives is that they end each one with a compelling question or a cliffhanger," said McBride. "And so, you finish a show and you are so compelled to watch the next one and you look at everybody else in the room and say -- 'one more.' And pretty soon, 13 hours have gone by."

The ability to watch a program from start to finish instead of week-to-week is changing our relationship with the tube.

"It's really changing how we relate to shows," McBride said. "Often times you will have a show that's getting you through a particularly difficult patch in life. Or you'll have a show that you equate with a certain relationship in your life, so you might watch this with your boyfriend or your spouse or your kids. And it brings up a whole etiquette question. If you are watching a show with another person, is it okay to go ahead when that person is out of town or otherwise busy? People are wrestling with this question and there's not a good answer to it."

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