In the early days of Netflix Originals such as “House of Cards” (Feb 2013), “Hemlock Grove” (Apr 2013) and “Orange Is The New Black” (Jun 2013) subscribers across the globe were treated to something relatively new – the whole season was available without having to wait for weekly episodes. It really shook things up and changed the way that people watched TV shows and even brought about a new phrase: ‘binge-watching’. Over the years this has generally stayed the same with Netflix Original series having all their episodes ‘drop’ at launch.
There have been a few shows branded as Netflix Originals that didn’t arrive in one go but these were usually co-productions where they would air weekly in their home country and arrive on Netflix everywhere else the following day. Shows such as The CW’s “Riverdale” and TNT’s “Snowpiercer” are just two examples where episodes would be released weekly on Netflix around the globe. There are also a large number of Korean TV series that come to Netflix on a weekly basis.
With over eight years of Originals as well as other streaming services like Prime going down the ‘whole-season drop’ route it was somewhat of a surprise when, in November 2019, the brand new Disney+ streaming service released their flagship Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” as weekly episodes. Initially there were a few complaints but the show was good enough to warrant making people wait – but it also had another advantage… For nearly two full months The Internet was abuzz with talk and hype about the series – each week would bring speculation as to what would happen, countless websites and YouTubers would be discussing the week’s episode and giving their theories about what might be to come. Disney continued the weekly release schedule for other shows such as the Marvel series “WandaVision” which, again, led to months of hype, discussion and excitement. This was markedly different to the culture of binge-watching the latest Netflix series in a few days. With Netflix series, aside from a bit of pre-release promotion, a show is released and then just left to fend for itself. If they’re lucky a few websites will write about it but the hype is missing as spoilers abound from day one as blog posts and YouTube videos will often spoil the ending before many people have even had chance to watch the first episode. The ‘whole-season drop’ method also removes the option for viewers to form groups online to discuss theories and review each episode as everyone’s viewing schedules will differ. At least with weekly episodes you know that no one has already seen the season finale after half a day from release.
Many years ago I was of the opinion that Netflix should continue the way they have been – if someone wanted to watch weekly episodes then they could simply choose to watch the show weekly but still allow the binge-watchers to binge. However, after two seasons of “The Mandalorian” and now being part way through the third Marvel series on Disney+ my opinion is changing. I have enjoyed the weekly discourse with my family and friends about what might happen in “Hawkeye” or where Grogu might end up in “The Mandalorian”; I have enjoyed watching and reading theories of what might happen in upcoming episodes; I have enjoyed knowing that content creators the world over have only seen as much as I have and that I am (relatively) safe from seeing spoilers. But on the flipside, cliffhanger episode endings really do my head in and I quite often want to jump straight into the next episode. I like the option of being able to watch the next episode if I want to.
There’s no easy answer to this as we have grown accustomed to the ‘whole-season drop’ method but in recent times Netflix has been experimenting with some different methods. I believe that the weekly episodes of co-productions like “Riverdale” and “Snowpiercer” alongside the weekly episodes of many Korean shows, has helped to broaden the way in which Netflix subscribers watch their content and allowed the streamer to try something new. A number of competition reality shows have moved away from releasing the whole series in one go. For example the dating show “Love Is Blind” was released over three weeks; “The Circle: USA” was released over four weeks with the winner’s episode being released on the fourth and final week. This seems to work well for competition shows as everyone can find out the results at the same time instead of people being able to binge-watch and, either purposefully or inadvertently, spoil that for other viewers.
The recent animated series “Arcane”, based on the popular “League of Legends” game franchise, used a similar approach. The whole series was made up of nine episodes but its release was split into three ‘acts’ with the three episodes of each act released weekly. While it didn’t have as long a release schedule as, say, “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” on Disney+, it did allow fans to discuss the show for a longer period and have that all important discourse that generally helps to promote TV shows.
Another downside of releasing the whole season is related to renewals and cancellations. Early viewing figures, while not the only deciding factor, play a part in whether or not a Netflix series will get renewed or cancelled. I have previously written about how I am the reason Netflix cancels their shows – mostly because I don’t/can’t usually watch it as soon as it’s been released. But as I’ve already mentioned above, this may be related to the ‘whole-season drop’ method. If shows are released weekly then there would be a natural increase in discussion and interest in a show, which would then increase the viewing numbers. There are a number of shows that I have started watching months, sometimes years, since they were initially released that I have enjoyed – but even if I started a show just one month after release, my viewing could already be ‘too late’ to be included in any renewal decisions.
Personally I don’t think that Netflix should change to weekly episodes in the same way that Disney do but I also don’t think that the whole-season drop is ‘healthy’ for the streamer or its shows. Online discussion and YouTube videos and suchlike are massively important for all forms of media and even a giant like Netflix could benefit from the extra publicity – how many times have you watched an amazing show on Netflix only to find that none of your friends have ever even heard of it? I would be more than happy for Netflix to stagger their Original series’ release schedule like they have with the competition shows and “Arcane”. Imagine a 10-episode series where we get three episodes a week and the finale, on week four, could be watched globally ‘together’. That, in my opinion, would be a happy medium and help promote the streamer’s many excellent, but often unnoticed, shows. It could also help them to gauge a show’s rise or fall in popularity for better statistics with regards to any renewal decisions.
As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!