Indians too busy Netflix-ing to chill
I have an uncle who watches Ae Dil Hai Mushkil every day. He has a corporate job and doesn’t regularly tackle the entire Karan Johar movie, but confesses he’ll watch a scene or two before going to bed, or a bit more during his Mumbai local commute to and from the workplace. It is cinematic comfort food, aided by the mammoth size of his smartphone screen and the fact that you can watch the Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma drama on Amazon Prime anytime you want. Anytime and, as is becoming increasingly clear, anywhere.
India, according to a new survey conducted by Netflix, is watching an awful lot of television in public. We are among the highest public “bingers in the world”, with a whopping 88% of Indian streaming users watching their Netflix shows in a public area. This rates far ahead of the global average (67%) and I surmise it could be because we, in general, have better smartphone screens than we do television sets. Smartphone screens are getting brighter and sharper and cheaper with each iteration, and these big glossy rectangles are increasingly suited to a quick television fix without actually having to be near a television.
What also drives up the Netflix average, I posit, is the fact that most Indian families using Netflix have one account and one television set in the house, while every member binges at their own pace on their own phones. The lack of appointment viewing means my mother can be relatively social with family and guests all evening and compulsively catch up on her soaps late at night on her phone. Caution, however, must be urged. A friend and filmmaker, Sudhish Kamath, is recovering from the increasingly common malady of “smartphone blindness”, caused by a frantic marathon of the entire run of House Of Cards on his phone.
After tearing through 65 episodes in one week in the darkness—and reading subtitles while at it—Kamath’s right eye couldn’t read even large text like newspaper headlines. Things are better now, but only because close friends wisely locked him out of social media for a fortnight and forced him away from screens. So watch, if you will, but in moderation—and don’t turn the brightness up too high when watching in the dark. Your OLED screen may be able to take it, but your eyes aren’t quite as ready.
Another reason we are watching a lot of television while out and about is because life in India comes with a lot of waiting built in. Waiting in line, waiting in offices, waiting for things to get done and waiting to get to places we should be at much sooner. Indians, for example, binge-watch on trains constantly—65%, compared to the global average of 31%—and this is obviously aided by the fact that most streaming services now allow you to download and save shows locally on your devices, so even if you don’t have any network connectivity while on the move, you can watch another season of your current fix. In comparison, those in Thailand and Malaysia frequently binge while they eat out, while dining alone in restaurants in India isn’t considered socially acceptable—even with Daenerys Targaryen for company.
There is something fascinating in the data set called “Show Shame”, wherein Indians—at 30%—are rated the most likely people to be embarrassed by other people finding out what they’re watching. This is possibly because of how demonstrative we are as an audience. Almost two-thirds of surveyed Indians laughed out loud in public, 26% admitted to having cried into their screens, and 9% gasped or actually “jumped out of their seat” in shock. Also, when caught by fellow commuters watching a risqué scene, 47% of Indians checked to see if anyone was still looking, while 41% pretended nothing was wrong and kept at it. In contrast, South Koreans feel incredibly low “Show Shame”—11%—because they are restrained and measured with their reactions, and this discreetness makes less people curious about what they might be watching.
The findings I found most interesting had to do with the way all this bingeing on the go is affecting social interaction. Nearly a third of Indian viewers said they prioritized a movie or TV show over conversation with someone nearby, and even more confessed to pretending not to see or hear someone around them because they were watching. I’ve stood in line while mainlining Insecure on Hotstar, sure, but 25% of the people surveyed said they missed their train/bus stop because they were so caught up by what they were watching. Also, nearly a fifth of viewers claimed that they chanced upon spoilers merely by looking into someone else’s screen.
This peering, of course, happens a lot. More than half the viewers in India have noticed someone else looking into their screens, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has opened the sports pages on a flight the day of a big cricket game. This, oddly enough, brings about new hope. A startling 50% of Indian viewers say they struck up a conversation with a stranger after the stranger happened to see what they were watching. Perhaps this will be the new normal, boys meeting girls over Fargo, girls meeting boys over The People Vs O.J. Simpson. It’s like meeting someone at a library, only now we carry our libraries with us.
Stream Of Stories is a column on what to watch online.
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