Netflix made binge viewing the norm for streaming television, but as new competitors threaten to disrupt the platform’s dominance, the old weekly release schedule for television shows is coming back in a big way.
Outside of “Dickinson,” original series on the recently-released Apple TV+ are dropping new episodes weekly, and the upcoming Disney+ and HBO Max streaming services will follow suit. If a viewer wants to find out whether Jennifer Aniston salvages her broadcast anchor gig on Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” or tune in to Pedro Pascal’s latest bounty hunting escapades on Disney+’s “The Mandalorian,” they’ll need to keep coming back to those streaming services every week.
Streaming executives say the weekly release schedules will get viewers engaged by setting a pattern of watching a show at the same time – essentially a throwback to the long-held network model. That was the argument “The Mandalorian” executive producer Dave Filoni made during a recent press event, and HBO Max content chief Kevin Reilly echoed the point during WarnerMedia’s HBO Max unveiling in October. “HBO hits like ‘Succession’ and ‘Chernobyl’ became part of the zeitgeist with a weekly release schedule rather than fading quickly after a binge-and-burn,” Reilly told investors during the HBO Max event.
Will it work? Analysts such as Wedbush’s Daniel Ives aren’t quite as optimistic about the shift back to the weekly release model. Ives noted that it’s no coincidence that Apple TV+ and Disney+, which are only launching with a small handful of original projects, are staggering the release of their shows: If those platforms dropped all of the episodes from their exclusive series at launch, there wouldn’t be any new original content to keep viewers coming back for the next few months.
“In this content arms race there is a lot of pressure to have releases on a weekly basis, especially of new shows,” Ives said. “They’re spreading out their original content because right now they lack fuel in that engine.”
Photo Courtesy Apple
Though the weekly release schedules for Apple TV+—which currently doesn’t show the premiere dates for future episodes of its shows—and Disney+ could mask their relative lack of original projects compared to industry behemoths such as Netflix and Hulu, regularly releasing new content from highly-anticipated shows such as “The Morning Show” and “The Mandalorian” should nonetheless keep those platforms relevant despite the crowded market, according to Ives.
Apple TV+ and HBO Max spokespersons declined to comment and a Disney+ spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is an especially prominent example of a television show staying relevant thanks to its weekly release schedule. The lull between weekly episode releases of these other shows could generate easy word of mouth as fans debate what will happen on the next episode of a particular show, according to Jimmy Schaeffler, CEO of media consultancy The Carmel Group.
“They are testing the consumer to see if returning to the traditional ways of having an episodic weekly show builds excitement and anticipation from a good percentage of the audience,” Schaeffler said. “If you have people talking amongst themselves on social media or at gatherings about the next week of a show, you have great word of mouth.”
Regardless, Schaeffler wasn’t sold on the weekly release format and stressed that binge viewing was hardly going away. Amazon Prime Video and Hulu have released episodes of certain projects weekly, but those have been exceptions to the rule. Netflix also recently experimented with a weekly release format for its “Rhythm + Flow” competition series, but that’s unlikely to be a sign of things to come.
Breadth of content aside, viewers enjoy having control over their television consumption habits, and taking binging away from viewers after it’s been the norm for so long could be an active detriment to new services, according to Schaeffler.
“People love to have choice and in this instance you have more choice when you can binge shows,” Schaeffler said. “To get rid of that choice now is a big risk. There is a segment of the audience that loves to binge and if you don’t allow them that, they will be watching something else when they could be watching your content.”