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A new spectator sport for the TV superfan: 'binge racing'

Last Updated Oct 17, 2017 at 8:40 am EST

NEW YORK, N.Y. – For a special breed of TV superfans, this isn’t streaming. This is a gusher.

Behold the spectator sport known as “binge racing,” defined as plowing through a streaming-network series’ full season in less than 24 hours after the release of those episodes.

Sure, any viewer may speak of bingeing on a chosen show, by which they may mean watching several episodes in two or three sittings. That’s not this! Binge racing is an extreme sport, a test of eyeball stamina and derriere endurance, and a testament to ultimate devotion. It also confers bragging rights for those who manage to complete this marathon.

Netflix, which from its start defied TV’s age-old practice of parsing out episodes week after week by, instead, making all of them available at once, has taken special notice of the binge-racing trend among its subscribers.

“We’ve seen it increasing year after year,” says Brian Wright, Netflix’s vice-president of Original Series. “I equate it to wanting to be the first to see a new ‘Star Wars’ film or lining up to get the latest Harry Potter book.”

Where did the term come from?

“We wanted language for that superfan who watched it all in one sitting,” he says, “and ‘binge racing’ was bubbling up on social media. It was an organic thing.”

During the same period when the total number of memberships doubled, the number of same-day binge racers went from 200,000 in 2013 to more than 5 million so far this year.

While most binge racers only take the challenge occasionally — when a certain special series demands a single big gulp — one U.S. viewer has binge-raced 36 times so far this year, Netflix says.

According to Netflix numbers-crunchers, West Virginia can boast the nation’s highest number of binge racers, as computed by the percentage of binge racers among the state’s total Netflix subscribers. Right behind are Michigan, Maryland, Delaware and Indiana. (Sorry, Alaska and Hawaii — you come in last.)

Globally, the United States is the binge-racing runner-up to world champ Canada, with Denmark, Finland and Norway rounding out the International Top Five. (Similarly, these figures are computed by the percentage of binge racers among each country’s number of customers.)

Wright hastens to say no judgments are tied to Netflix’s data.

The numbers “speak to a certain level of excitement around certain titles, and they also speak to consumer control — people can design their own viewing experience,” he says. “Binge racing reflects a certain kind of fervour and love. But someone who takes his time to watch the episodes isn’t any less of a fan.”

So what are the Netflix program rankings for binge racing nationally? “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” holds the top spot, followed by “Fuller House,” ”The Ranch,” ”Marvel’s The Defenders,” ”The Seven Deadly Sins,” ”Trailer Park Boys,” ”Santa Clarita Diet,” ”F is for Family,” ”Orange is the New Black” and “Stranger Things.” (Netflix notes that this ranking has no relation to overall viewership, which it doesn’t divulge.)

Brian Williams, a financial consultant in Burbank, California, says he powered through the 10 episodes of “Ozark” when that drama was released last July.

“I started after dinner,” he says, and although he concedes he began to flag late in this endurance contest, “I had a whole pot of coffee to support my habit.”

“There’s pleasure in being one of the first to be able to talk knowledgeably about a show,” he explains. “And I like sharing my recommendations among friends. I have a bit of a reputation for knowing what’s coming up.”

Chris Trejo describes himself as “an impatient guy. I don’t like to wait.”

An enrolment officer at Azusa Pacific University, the Fullerton, California, binge racer says he shares the sport with his fiancee — up to a point.

“We watched ‘Master of None’ together,” he says. “But with ‘GLOW,’ she started watching, then she left. I finished it by myself.”

Trejo acknowledges that it’s “bittersweet” when the marathon is over and he knows another run, if there is one for that show, will be months down the road.

“But I want to watch as soon as it’s available,” he sums up.

Asked what he’s looking forward to now, he quickly answers “Stranger Things,” whose second season of nine episodes Netflix will release on Oct. 27.

“I need to put that in my calendar,” Trejo says, “and move some things around — you know?”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org.