Anghus Houvouras on why binge watching is bad for show business…
The entertainment industry crossed some major thresholds in 2020. Streaming services, already soaring in popularity and the primary way people consume creative content, got a massive upgrade thanks to Covid-19 shuttering the cinematic experience. 2021 is looking likely to be the biggest year ever for streaming, if for no other reason than a handful of studios opting to skip theatrical releases and debut some very big movies online. With all the new streaming services available and pandemic isolation prompting an even deeper dive into the medium, I began to examine how various streaming services deploy their new content and the debate between weekly episodic releases vs. releasing and entire season of a show simultaneously.
Netflix changed the game when they started releasing an entire season of a show at once. It was a new concept and was designed to show the benefit of streaming services versus traditional broadcast & cable television platforms. It tapped into our desire for instant gratification and made the old model of weekly episodes feel antiquated. But other streaming services have resisted the urge of releasing an entire season of their original content at once, sticking with weekly installments for their highest profile content. A vast majority of film fans, critics and columnists continually berate the streaming services that still adhere to the old standard of weekly releases for their hottest shows. Why don’t all the streaming services release the entire season of their news shows at once?
Because it’s bad for business.
Netflix hasn’t been immune to making mistakes (Remember Qwikster?), but the most fundamental long-term error they’ve made, in my humble opinion, is the binge-watching release model of their original series.
1. It eradicates anticipation
The weekly episode model still works for a number of reasons. First, it builds anticipation week over week. The anticipation for the next installment keeps audiences hooked. It allows fans to formulate theories. To discuss plot points week over week which helps foster the community around the show. Series like Prime Video’s The Boys and Disney+’s The Mandalorian are discussed week over week for two months as each episode is released, frequently trending on all social media sites because fans don’t know what will happen next. Netflix shows don’t get the benefit of the build up. Their new shows are released and consumed at a rapid pace. And while their programs are very capable of seizing the zeitgeist, but they struggle to keep hold of it for very long. Each time Netflix dumps an entire season’s worth of content, they lose the ability to capitalize on the potential long-term popularity of a show. Audiences binge the show in order to avoid potential spoilers online. Netflix is serving audiences an eight to ten-course meal shoved into their faces all at once, forcing viewers to gobble and slurp up every bite with urgency.
Concurrently, it can make the span of time between seasons feel ridiculously long since you watched 10 episodes over the course of a weekend instead of over two and a half months.
2. It prevents shows from building an audience
Yes, there is great irony in the phrase ‘water cooler’ conversations in a world where few people actually go to an office anymore. These conversations have moved online to social media where people can share their favorite shows and discuss the latest episodes. Netflix’s paradigm gives audiences a brief window to share their excitement for a show. The third season of Cobra Kai launched January 1st. For a few days, fans were talking about the latest season and sharing their likes and dislikes. They were sharing favorite moments and discussing surprise cameos. Film sites were churning out full season reviews and thought-pieces about the season, stumbling over one another to provide a hot-take. By the end of the week, these conversations will cease to be.
Netflix gave up 10 weeks of conversation. 10 weeks of fans sharing their opinions. 10 weeks of YouTube videos reviewing each episode. All things that help bring in new fans and make the series feel like a must-see. All that potential goodwill exhausted in the span of a few days. You lack the ability to become excited for what’s next, because what’s new has exceeded its freshness date within days of release. Word of mouth becomes more difficult for a show that existing fans have already burnt through as they make a handful of posts before moving onto the next. In comparison, a show like The Handmaid’s Tale can have a continuing conversation with fans calling out what they liked about each new episode and potentially call out things you hadn’t considered or might have missed. It allows the material to marinate. That time and space between episodes help shape your perception of the show and limits the
In a weird way, Netflix’s binge model has created a marketplace where a TV Show is no different from a movie or stand-up special. It’s just another title in their massive library. Sure, a multi-episode series will contribute to the total numbers of hours watched for the service, but it gives them no advantage in the war for fleeting attention spans that streaming services rely on to rope in and maintain new subscribers.
3. Increased threat of season-ruining spoilers
Any show that launches every single episode at the same time becomes a ticking time bomb. Imagine a scenario where The Mandalorian released every episode of season 2 at once and that final episode reveal is broadcast to the world within hours of being released. Picture the disappointment of fans who barely had time to wake up and eat breakfast before the most compelling spoiler of 2020 has been screen-capped and posted on social media and is now featured in the thumbnails of a thousand different YouTube videos.
Full season dumps exponentially increases the likelihood of plot twists being plastered all over the web before you’ve had a chance to watch all the episodes.
Weekly releases are better than full season dumps. If you don’t believe me, watch how WandaVision dominates the next two months of social media trends each week as a new episode released. It will inspire millions of comments and conversations as fans analyze each episode and are given the time to dissect the story before diving into the next installment.
Weekly releases aren’t just good for the streaming services, it’s good for the fans.
What are your thoughts on full season dumps vs the weekly model? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…