Video-streaming services have long differentiated themselves from linear TV by allowing consumers to watch all the episodes of a newly released series in one sitting. All-at-once drops can quickly drive a stunning amount of engagement: Netflix’s out-of-nowhere hit “Squid Game” was reportedly viewed for over 1.6 billion hours globally within the first month of its release.
But the best way to release a new series on streaming has become a bigger debate over the past couple of years. Newer streaming services such as Disney+ and Apple TV+ have found success with weekly release strategies for certain high-profile releases like “WandaVision” and “Ted Lasso.”
What’s more, entertainment companies are now more interested in becoming more financially disciplined — as the long-perceived video-streaming growth ceiling comes into question — and these weekly releases help alleviate subscription video on demand (SVOD) services fearing content lulls and feeling pressure to constantly spend on and drop new series.
That’s why it wasn’t shocking when The Information in February reported that “Netflix Rivals Are Ditching Binge Watching,” and former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar in April chimed in on the benefits of a weekly release schedule.
But some in the industry still champion the binge release model — an approach Netflix regularly uses. And streaming platforms currently deciding how to approach their series release strategies should consider that on rival platforms, most consumers will still take advantage of compelling binge-viewing opportunities that present themselves.
A majority of viewers take advantage of binge releases if given the option
A Morning Consult survey conducted in early March among 2,211 U.S. adults found that most consumers across key demographics prefer to watch at least two episodes a day of a series that’s released all at once.
Conversely, no more than 31% of any age cohort indicated that they only watch one episode a week when a series drops all its episodes at once, with Gen Z adults (13%) and millennials (13%) the least likely to follow this watching pattern.
These figures are in line with previous research from Morning Consult showing that many U.S. consumers, particularly younger ones, prefer a good content binge. It’s important data for newer platforms such as Disney+, HBO Max and Paramount+ — which tend to stick to weekly releases for their high-profile series — to keep in mind as they consider their release strategies and look to accelerate growth.
The numbers above would explain why Netflix — which during its most recent earnings call said it will not grow its content spend as quickly as it had originally intended — won’t drastically shift away from its strategy of mostly dropping seasons all at once.
Streaming services could look to take advantage of binge watchers during the rise of ad tiers by making ad breaks less intrusive for those who want to watch a string of episodes in one sitting. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to envision a future where a video platform displays ads as frame ads — such as those that Peacock just unveiled during the upfronts — during every third or so episode watched consecutively, rather than traditional mid-roll ads that disrupt a program.
This would incentivize certain viewers to have longer sessions on ad-supported streaming services that employ this tactic, and could even boost consumption of classic sitcoms such as ”Friends” and “Seinfeld,” both of which commanded nine-figure deals.
With so many streaming options, not all binge releases are landing
Of course, streaming services’ content strategies aren’t dictated solely by consumer demand. In other words, we still see other video-streaming services — especially those with smaller libraries such as Apple TV+ — opt for weekly release schedules because they’re more financially viable than having to always spend on and drop entire seasons at once.
Weekly release schedules will also remain a valuable option because not all series can quickly catch fire among binge-happy younger cohorts. Content quality aside, Gen Z adults and millennials are more likely than older generations to have access to five or more SVODs, indicating these younger cohorts have the most SVOD substitutes to turn to when a binge-released show fails to hook them.
Producers and showrunners seeking extended promotion campaigns from streaming services carrying their programs may take comfort in this. Weekly releases justify extended marketing pushes promoting a showrunner and their show more so than binge releases, for example.
But like many areas in the video-streaming space, the analysis here indicates there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for series releases.
While it seems possible that weekly releases could continue to gain steam — as has been the trend for years now — the binge release will remain a valuable tool at streaming services’ disposal. Decisions on how best to release episodes will be weighed against a number of factors such as how costly the show was to produce, what other offerings a platform has in its pipeline, whom the series is marketed toward and what other competitors are releasing around the series’ intended debut.