Light in the morning, darkness at night: how the time of day influences what we want to binge-watch

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Moya Crockett
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We can blame a lot on our relationship with time. Research suggests that everything from our online shopping habits to our ability to learn effectively is impacted by what time of day it is, while people who are useless at keeping an eye on the clock have been shown to be successful, creative and optimistic (and, OK, kind of annoying).

Now, new evidence indicates that our TV habits are also heavily influenced by time. With the introduction of online streaming services, we can now watch exactly what we want, when we want to watch it – but according to Netflix, the ‘when’ influences the ‘what’ more than you might think.

The streaming giant recently conducted an investigation into the viewing habits of its 98 million users, and discovered that certain patterns of behaviour were repeated all over the world.

Comedy was overwhelmingly found to be the TV of choice in the mornings, with Netflix users 34% more likely to be watching something bright and breezy at around 6am. It seems that familiar, friendly sitcoms are perfect for sticking on while you dash around, looking for your missing shoe: think The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or How I Met Your Mother.

Once night falls, however, darker viewing material sees a surge in popularity. People all over the globe choose to spend their evenings hunkering down with a meaty thriller or sci-fi show such as The OA, Stranger Things or House of Cards – with series like these becoming over 25% more popular at around 9pm.

But if you’re not sure you’d want to binge-watch the distinctly spine-chilling The OA right before bed, you have company. After 11pm, darker series are ditched once again in favour of more frivolous fare. You’re unlikely to get nightmares after watching an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, after all.

Watch: 5 reasons to catch up with Three Girls on BBC iPlayer

Many people were also found to be watching Netflix between the hours of noon and 2pm – suggesting that some are choosing to dive into their favourite series while on their lunch breaks. (Here at the Stylist office, we can vouch for the fact that this is a Thing People Do.) These lunchtime viewers favour series like Orange is the New Black and Mad Men, with drama accounting for almost half of Netflix shows watched at this time.

Finally, if you’re the kind of rebellious person who regularly stays up past midnight for a streaming spree, chances are you’re watching something educational. Netflix reports that documentaries see a 24% rise in viewing between 12am and 6am, with titles like Planet Earth and Making a Murderer particularly popular.

“For years our lives had to fit around television, now it’s the other way around,” says Cindy Holland, Vice President of Original Content.

“We’ve given consumers control and it’s interesting to see the behaviours that emerge when viewers aren’t tied to a schedule. And even more so to see that these routines are replicated by millions the world over.”

Images: Rex Features


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.