"Binge watching... is not likely to become a thing of the past and continues to impact the mental health of viewers everywhere.'"
By Megan Kern
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many people have made unexpected “lifestyle changes” that include working from home, eating at home instead of out at restaurants, attempting at-home workouts, and for many, “binge watching” has taken on a whole new meaning. The COVID-19 outbreak has debilitated much of the entertainment industry by shutting down live theatres, movie theatres, live music concerts, museums, film sets, and countless other venues. Yet, streaming services have actually flourished in the first quarter of 2020. In mid-April, Netflix reported an increase of 15.8 million subscribers, which doubled Wall Street’s expectations, and a 28% increase in revenue since the beginning of the CDC’s “stay-at-home” orders.
Increased time at home and social isolation, while partially rejuvenating, may become harmful over prolonged periods of time. According to an article published by the Daily Dot, the American Public Health Association (APHA) launched a study to look at the association between the new phenomenon known as “binge watching” and increased mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and stress. The APHA defines “binge watching” as “watching television at a stretch over an extended period of time.” The study concluded that excessive screen time and TV viewing is significantly associated with poor mental and physical health. The APHA further stated that binge watching is a “growing health concern that needs to be addressed.” As the COVID-19 pandemic ensues and social isolation and binge watching on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and HBO continues, overall concern for individuals’ mental health increases.
Even before the pandemic, however, streaming service providers heard the concern of public health officials regarding the mental health of their viewers. In October 2019, HBO sought to improve recognition of mental health issues and encourage discussion about the entertainment industry’s influence on the mental health of viewers. Variety released that HBO partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Health to create awareness warnings to specific shows that display characters with mental health conditions.
Such disclaimers “identify the mental illnesses that appear in the episode and provide a call to action for anyone seeking help.” The inclusion of the disclaimers is not of a legal nature, but rather HBO aims to inform, destigmatize, and encourage conversation around mental health issues. While the awareness warnings do not deter viewers from watching their favorite shows, binge watching may not always be the problem that it is during the current social situation. A deceleration in membership growth as stay-at-home confinement ends may likely be the case for many streaming providers. Binge watching, however, is not likely to become a thing of the past and continues to impact the mental health of viewers everywhere.
Megan Kern, JD candidate at Case Western Reserve University, School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio.