To binge or not to binge?

The advantages of releasing streamed shows weekly

On November 12, 2019, Disney launched their long-awaited streaming app, Disney+. While such a massive and influential company creating their own streaming service may not surprise most, what might have is the way in which its original content was released. The service’s breakout hit, The Mandalorian, was released in a traditional episodic format, with a new episode coming out every week. 

It seems obvious that waiting a week for a new episode builds excitement, the good kind of worry, and a sense of fulfillment when it actually comes out

This is in stark contrast to some of the distinguished competition: Netflix’s big break into the industry involved it releasing every episode of its new shows at once, and it has since gone on to become a household name. Amazon Prime Video, an early competitor, followed the same format and, according to Forbes, averaged 150 million subscribers as of the last quarter of 2019—not far behind Netflix’s 167.1 million as reported by the same site. Binge-watching is now a common, everyday part of our culture.

And why shouldn’t it be? It seems obvious that waiting a week for a new episode builds excitement, the good kind of worry, and a sense of fulfillment when it actually comes out. On the other hand, binge-watching allows for quick satisfaction of those same emotions—but quick satisfaction is not always a good thing. Not wanting to have them on your mind for a whole week can be understandable, but if those emotions are not allowed to mature then the payoff (and the experience as a whole) is lessened.

Shows designed for binge-watching are often compared to exceptionally long movies (at times poorly and obviously cut into episodes), and yet popular movie series themselves are often episodic (Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe come to mind). The theorizing, discussions, and gradually-building feelings of excitement are a great part of the experience, and we tend to view it as bad when we are deprived of that. Why shouldn’t this be encouraged for episodes of a show as well?

Of course, the shows themselves must be good for this to work. Shows made for bingeing can circumvent this to some extent; they are released all at once, before bad press can come in, and viewers can even get through them in one go. A show that is released weekly must be good enough to encourage viewers to come back week after week or it will fail.
Since the weekly-release format appears to encourage better shows and more profitable shows—a bonus for everyone involved—the increasing popularity of this format on streaming services seems to me a good thing. Sure, it can be stressful to wait a whole week for the next tidbit from your favorite show… but if the payoff is all the more with it, can we really complain?

Author: Luke Fredette

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