Over the last decade, the biggest media conglomerates have invested in at-home entertainment. Streaming services such as Netflix, Audible and Amazon Prime deliver large volumes of multimedia content on an almost daily basis, making it difficult to even come close to grasping the range of all the products that are available to us on demand. Still, despite this innumerable content, consumers frequently decide to return to the same movies, TV shows and books. Although this decision appears to be rather counterintuitive at first, looking at the characteristics of reconsumption experiences reveals its advantages over first time time exposure.
For hundreds of years, a long line of philosophers have presented humans as rational and calculated beings. Although this thought pattern remains quite prevalent in today’s society, cognitive psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown how inherently irrational we actually are. As much as we would like to see ourselves as rational, it is rather obvious that we aren’t: just remember the time you ignored the numerous red flags in a person to keep up the illusion you formed in your head, or the time you spent days worrying and procrastinating on a task that would have taken you two minutes to complete. This irrationality is not only negative. On the contrary, I personally see it as one of the most fascinating and entrancing facets of human nature. In a society in which we frequently boast about our analytical thinking, it is intriguing to observe and understand the behavior that cannot – or at least not entirely – be explained through logical reasoning.
One of these seemingly irrational behaviors I frequently find myself falling back to is watching the same movies and shows and reading the same books all over again. Thinking about it, I have seen Fight Club and Interstellar at least five times each and I do not even dare to count the times I rummaged through The Little Prince. Looking at the fan outrage about the 90s sitcom Friends leaving Netflix, I am by no means the only person who falls back to the same content. If we are currently experiencing the highest number of daily media releases in human history, why do we frequently find ourselves going back to already known content?
To answer this question, professor of marketing Christel Russel and her co-author Sidney Levy interviewed people about their reasons for reconsumption. Instead of looking at automatic behavior types such as habits or addictions, they looked at “volitional reconsumption”, the active and conscious decision to experience something again. As easy as it would be to attribute this decision to nostalgia and reminiscence, the research suggests that it is more complex than that. With most of us having a rather busy lifestyle, it takes a really good reason to do something over and over again. Mainly, two characteristics of revisiting old favorites make the experience different to a first-time consumption: experiential control and hyperresponsiveness.
The research revealed that one of the main benefits of reconsumption is that the previous knowledge of the goods enables consumers to design their pastime more actively. Volitional reconsumption provides a security that cannot be assured when choosing to watch or read something new. By reconsuming, people’s desire for predictability, stability and order is met. This facet is especially valuable for people who do not experience a lot of control in their day to day lives. Further, previous knowledge of the content allows the consumer to choose something that matches their exact mood. Did you have a stressful time at work? Watch the comforting comedy you’ve been coming back to for the last years. Have you been feeling a bit sad today? How about you watch the heartwarming children’s movie you used to watch when you were younger.
During the research, many of the interviewees also pointed out that they highly valued the resulting possibility to manage and personalize their experience. Knowing what to expect, it is possible to design your consumption. If you know that you dislike a certain scene of a movie, you can quickly skip through it. On the other hand, you can also take more time to dive into specific parts which remain difficult to understand or which you simply consider to be really enjoyable. Overall, the experiential control that is offered by volitional reconsumption enables people to take an active role in the consumption process and to adapt it to their needs and likings. This possibility results in two kinds of satisfaction: the excitement of anticipation and the excitement while watching – without any risk involved.
Volitional reconsumption experiences are hyperresponsive in an emotional and cognitive way, meaning that they “heighten senses and feelings and engage deep processing”. Respondents reported feeling awake and aroused whenever they rewatch or reread something carefully and mindfully. This experienced phenomenon of hyperresponsiveness enables them to discover details, subtle notes, and references that were missed before – all things which allow for a greater appreciation of the good. While during first time consumption, the main focus lies on understanding the overall storyline, it is now possible to focus on all the thought-through aspects that were likely missed before.
“I know how the story goes, I know what happens, I know more or less in what sequence what happens, so I’m reading it for the pleasure of the use of the language and the expressions used and just to refresh my acquaintance with something I enjoy”.
For me, Fight Club is an exceptional example of hyperresponsiveness in movies. Although the movie already captivated me when I saw it for the first time, rewatching it over and over again made me appreciate it even more. Not having to focus on understanding the main plot anymore allowed me to look for all the hidden frames and hints the American director David Fincher, who is known for his meticulous eye for detail, had spent so much time and thought on. As one of the study’s respondents said when being asked for his reasons to repeatedly read the same book: “I know how the story goes, I know what happens, I know more or less in what sequence what happens, so I’m reading it for the pleasure of the use of the language and the expressions used and just to refresh my acquaintance with something I enjoy”. Through rewatching a movie or rereading a book, consumers are able to discover and appreciate the different layers of it. All in all, consumption experiences of one and the same good are fluid and never identical. While, at first sight, it appears to be rather irrational to revisit the same products, it becomes apparent that repeated revisiting has a special value compared to first time consumption.