InDEPTH with Brad Byrd: The health risks of binge watching TV

In Depth with Brad Byrd

Sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Binging is something that covers all aspects of life – whether it be food or drinking.

Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd talks to Jim Hunter, our media critic, and Dr. Louis Cady, Psychiatrist and Founder of Cady Wellness Institute about the harms of binge watching TV shows on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.


Brad Byrd: Welcome to in-depth. Sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Binging is something that covers all aspects of life–whether it be food, drinking, chocolates and on down the line. Now, we have video streaming. And it is having a major effect on how we consume what’s on that flat screen, tablet or phone. Do you binge when you click on your firestick? Media Critic Bryan Reesman wrote late last month: “We have reached peak streaming saturation, and viewer fatigue is setting in. There is some amazing content being produced for sure, but there is simply too much out there to absorb”. Joining me tonight is our media critic Jim Hunter and Dr. Louis Cady, Psychiatrist and Founder of the Cady Wellness Institute. Gentlemen thanks for joining me tonight. Just scrolling through the menus, whether it be Netflix, Prime, Hulu, that’s going to take about two hours it seems. What do I watch at night when I get home if I just kind of want to watch something and is too much just too much?

Jim Hunter: Well, yeah, we’re in sort of a “golden age”, according to some entertainment critics of streaming content. And it’s often the case where people argue about what to watch more than they argue about what they have watched. It’s an interesting time that we’re living in, but it’s really quite intentional. All of these streaming services want to have as much content on their platforms and try to be everything to everybody because the more they are to everybody, that means more subscribers, which means more money, which means more watch time, which means greater market share.

Brad Byrd: Dr. Cady, what do you describe as binge watching? It’s a very loose term, but what is it?

Dr. Louis Cady: There have been a number of definitions. One is anything more than 2 episodes back to back. There are some that say 2-6, then you’re binge watching.

Brad Byrd: The benefits of that – you’re able to absorb a lot of content, but the drawbacks that you tell us are that there are potential serious health concerns if this goes too far. Tell about this.

Dr. Louis Cady: The short-term benefits to that is that you get a very nice shot of dopamine in the brain, it’s very pleasurable. The downside is those little shots of dopamine can be addicting and there are health consequences. One study in the American Heart Journal noted if you watch more than 3 hours of TV per day, you’re risk of major medical problems doubles that includes diabetes, heart disease and cancer. You’re being sedentary, you’re not exercising, and there are other maladaptive health behaviors there, like eating chips and dips and cookies and washing it down with pop.

Brad Byrd: You become a couch potato.

Dr. Louis Cady: Exactly.

Brad Byrd: Jim, these media giants are cranking this material out and the cost is phenomenal, and more and more people are wanting streaming and on-demand material. Where are they getting the money to finance these huge projects? Stranger Things started out as a one-million-dollar thing and has just skyrocketed.

Jim Hunter: Netflix is mostly debt financing. Some of the new entries in what we call the streaming wars and that is the battle for market share between Amazon, Netflix and Apple Plus. And other streaming services as well. Some of the new entries into those are very cash rich, for example Apple just introduced Apple Plus, which is going to launch a little bit later in the year, and they are incredibly cash rich and they are dumping a ton of money into this. Netflix – some of its revenue, most of its revenue comes out of subscribership’s and a lot of it comes out of debt financing that’s how Stranger Things gets produced. It’s more about people and investors investing in Netflix’s content rather than it is your $10.99 per month going to Stranger Things.

Brad Byrd: We were talking about the cliff hanger. And these episodes are all tied and that could be addictive. Are there other issues besides physical issues – are you going to be a happy person after all this viewing of television?

Dr. Louis Cady: All joking aside, I think if you consume a lot of media content and you’re just engaged with something that is not reality, it’s not a real person, it’s not real life, it’s not real social interaction, and you do it to excess, you’re going to have some repercussions. Social isolation, we mentioned the physical issues before, difficulty with relationships.

Brad Byrd: I know the days of waiting for the last episode of Seinfeld are over. Now, Seinfeld is going to be streaming.

Jim Hunter: Seinfeld is going to be on Netflix now. Seinfeld is a cash cow for some of these streaming services.

Dr. Louis Cady: Interesting thing that you just said – you described a specific episode that had a beginning, a problem, a solution and an end. I don’t think the Seinfeld episodes had cliff hangers at the end and now, when you have a cliffhanger at the end of every episode, number 1 more likely it’s gets you to tune in next week, then number 2 it makes it incredibly addictive and it will pull you into binge watching. You want to find out what happens then you find out, then you want to find out again.

Jim Hunter: And it is deliberately designed that way. Netflix is concentrating on watch time, keeping viewership, because it wants subscribers, but it also wants its price to be in elastic so that people won’t unsubscribe once they raise the price. So, all of this that you’re talking about is by design by the writers and producers of Netflix.

Brad Byrd: Well, Jim Hunter and Dr. Louis Cady thanks so much for being here tonight. Tonight, we won’t binge on In-Depth.

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(This story was originally published on Sept. 16, 2019)

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