This Is How Many Calories You Burn Binge Watching Your Favorite Shows


Put your love handles on Burn Notice and "binge watch your favorite shows while you walk," suggests Netflix's bizarre new infographic, Watch it While You Work Out. Released earlier this month as a part of a campaign to encourage healthy exercise habits among users, it suggests we do things like trim 304 calories while watching an episode of The Walking Dead from a treadmill.

Image credit: Netflix via Facebook

Desperate to deflect recent accusations that binge watching is an unhealthy habit, Netflix also released results from a customer survey finding that 45% of respondents would be more motivated to exercise if they could stream their favorite shows for free at the gym. But Netflix's health kick is a tacit acknowledgement that over-consumption of television is, in fact, a threat to public health. Given the highly addictive nature of streaming content, consumption is likely to grow as Americans transition from traditional TV to streaming digital. And this trend spells trouble for America's obesity epidemic.

TV addiction is going to spike when services like Netflix inevitably dominate cable. The public health consequences will be abysmal.

Parents, pundits and public officials have grumbled about the perils of TV addiction since the '70s. The science is all but proven, and nearly 50% of Americans admit to over-indulging. But streaming video is an unprecedented temptation for would-be addicts — 88% of Netflix subscribers and 70% of Hulu Plus subscribers regularly binge watch TV.

As with any addiction, availability is the overriding factor. Mobile devices stream a virtually infinite menu of content any time, anywhere. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus offer unlimited streaming at a flat rate. Anyone who's gorged on the Golden Corral buffet and lived to burp the tale can appreciate why a la carte pricing discourages binge behavior.

Finally, there's big data analytics to consider. As with all modern corporations, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu collect troves of user data to drive views and retain subscribers. Netflix's personalized recommendation system, so-called Netflix Quantum Theory, can predict exactly what content you crave, and a whopping 75% of Netflix subscribers decide what to watch on the basis of these recommendations. How can subscribers exercise self-control when Netflix offers instant-gratification at a tap of the trackpad?

Image credit: Comedy Central via Tumblr

It doesn't take Gene Parmesan to detect a connection between ballooning waistlines and video consumption, now 5.5 hours per day for the average American.

The number of American subscribers to traditional TV services has plateaued since 2009 because a growing share of the youth market is "cutting the cord" to rely wholly on streaming content. Since streaming encourages over-consumption, TV addiction is going to spike when services like Netflix inevitably dominate cable. The public health consequences will be abysmal.

The real American Horror Story is obesity, afflicting one-third of Americans and a projected 42% by 2050. It doesn't take Gene Parmesan to detect a connection between ballooning waistlines and video consumption, now 5.5 hours per day for the average American. More time on the couch means higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and other gruesome illnesses. And the stigma against binge-watching has started to disappear, with 73% of surveyed customers viewing the habit positively. But Netflix's exercise campaign suggests that it is aware binge-watching is part of the problem. So will Netflix take action against the scourge of TV addiction?

Netflix's business model maximizes viewing hours in order to discourage service cancellations. Watch it While You Work Out urges gyms to offer free streaming Netflix, thereby boosting subscriptions and introducing Netflix to new potential customers. Americans spend an average of 19 minutes per day engaged in sports and exercise, precious time that Netflix wants to cram with content. So Netflix is more interested in convincing healthy people to add TV to their exercise regimen than getting couch potatoes to add exercise to their TV regimen.

Image credit: Netflix via Facebook

Ultimately, Watch it While You Work Out is really about driving consumption, though the campaign also puts a positive PR spin on binge watching. Netflix might make token concessions to critics — it recently promised to allow customers to turn-off the binge-enabling post-play feature — but as CEO Reed Hastings remarked, "Netflix's brand for TV shows is really about binge viewing."

This debate calls to mind Morgan Spurlock's fast food expose, Supersize Me, which sparked a nationwide maelstrom against McDonalds. The Golden Arches didn't stop serving unhealthy food, they just ceased to offer supersize servings. Like McDonalds, Netflix isn't going to seriously address the issue of over-consumption and obesity if doing so undermines profitability. Barring government intervention, Americans seem doomed to addiction. Perhaps in 10 years time, the state will tax TV-watching alongside alcohol, tobacco and gambling. When that day comes, the era of unregulated Netflix may be remembered as the Gilded Age of TV.