Experts Warn Netflix May Be Partially Responsible For an Unexpected Health Problem

Whenever some new form of entertainment comes along, someone likes to claim it’s bad for you. When rock and roll came along, it was the devil’s music. When TV came along, it would ruin our eyes, especially if we watched in the dark. 

Now Netflix and other streamers are under scrutiny, at least in the U.K., by a clinic that contends binge-watching is bad for us. That’s not really why other streamers are moving away from the binge model, but it’s another sign of how the streaming landscape is in constant flux. 

Is Netflix spoiling us all? 

Netflix logo on a phone screen
Netflix logo | Chesnot/Getty Images

Technology always moves forward trying to make us do less and less work as the years go by. That’s true of television in general and Netflix in particular.

It started in the late ’90s  with its DVD-by-mail service via those omnipresent red envelopes. Now we didn’t have to go out to the video store anymore — fare thee well, Blockbuster — but we still had to remember to mail the discs back. 

By the late 2000s, Netflix started streaming. Now we didn’t even have to go to the effort of getting up to put a disc in the player. We pushed a button and boom — there was the show. No need to worry about returns anymore. 

Then came the truly revolutionary move. Netflix became a production company as well as a service, and when House of Cards came along, Netflix dropped all the episodes of a season at once. Now we didn’t even have to wait until next week to resolve the cliffhanger.

Netflix even programmed its apps to play the next episode without the viewer asking it to. Binge-watching became a thing. 

What’s so bad about binge-watching?

However, according to a U.K. report detailed in Screen Rant, bingeing may represent too much of a good thing. Psychotherapist Adam Cox has treated three patients at his clinic for binge-watching addiction, Most people know that bingeing is addictive, but for some people, it’s becoming dangerously so. Cox said:

“All three had fallen into a dangerous loop where they felt unable to switch off. They just had to watch the next episode, and the one after that and the one after that. A TV cliffhanger is a reward mechanism – like drink or drugs. It releases dopamine, and that can be an issue for people who have other stresses or anxieties in their life. It causes lack of sleep, which sends productivity through the floor, and stops people forming proper relationships.”

In other words, Netflix has become like gambling or playing the lottery. A few times may not be harmful, but a habit could be very harmful, Cox argues.

One person got so caught up in Breaking Bad, that person was watching seven hours a day. That may be great for Netflix, and for the folks behind Breaking Bad, but it seems that Netflix is as addictive as the drugs Walter White was peddling. 

Is bingeing on the decline?

Other services, notably Hulu and Disney+, differ from the Netflix model. They either drop only a few episodes at a time, or they go back to the old way of doing things: One show a week. You get what you get. This may put off impatient fans, but for the streamer, the advantage is, it makes the buzz around a show last longer. 

People binge at different paces, but at whatever speed, the buzz around a binged show like Russian Doll is short and hot. One week, it’s all everybody is talking about. In the next week or so, everybody has moved on to something else. 

By contrast, The Mandalorian’s eight episodes stretched out over eight weeks, and that’s a large part of the reason Baby Yoda is everywhere. There haven’t been any reports about people being in clinics for addictions to him. At least not yet.

For now, Netflix will stick to the binge model, so now viewers have to be careful they don’t turn into the humans dependent on their TV/smart chairs in WALL-E  – now streaming on Disney+!