In less than a decade, “binge watching” – watching multiple episodes of a new series in a row, all made available to users at once – has become a habit, or at least a well-established practice for many. Although there was a way before that to watch more episodes in a row on certain channels or on DVD, starting in 2013, hand in hand with the expansion of Netflix and its series, “binge-watching” (from “binge”) became established one of the symbols of how the platform had managed to break the television conventions and patterns of the past.
For some time, however, binge watching seems to have been in trouble: platforms such as Disney+, Apple TV+ or Prime Video often do without it, and even Netflix is sometimes exploring other distribution channels than the simultaneous publication of episodes of a series. , in an all-in-one format.
If, from the viewer’s point of view, binge watching was already possible with DVDs, the great novelty of Netflix was to release simultaneously all the episodes of its series, even the most expensive and ambitious like House of Cards. . The news was well received: Back in 2013, the year of the first season of House of Cards, “Binge Watching” was among the finalists for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year: It played with “twerk” and “bitcoin” with only preferred “Selfie”.
There was also a period early on when Netflix tried — apparently without success — to make the talk of “marathon-watching” rather than “binge-watching.” In short, Netflix didn’t like the fact that binge watching could be associated with negative and unhealthy terms like binge drinking or binge eating, meaning binge drinking or binge eating.
In May 2019, after the final episode of the final season of Game of Thrones – a series that is released in the traditional fashion of one episode per week – binge-watching was so dominant that there were even those who spoke of it it was the last series we managed to watch them all together, season after season, episode after episode. The pandemic and the sudden era when many could watch series online reinforced belief in the inevitability of binge-watching for many. In December 2020, Netflix closed the year with 37 million more subscribers than in January this year, apparently confirming that the future of watching the series lay in it.
In the meantime, however, the other major streaming services have established themselves and, since binge watching is now so closely linked to Netflix, also tried other avenues. While Prime Video often alternated how it made its episodes available to viewers (sometimes even changing depending on the season of the same series), other streaming services took an even more drastic approach. The service to be more drastic was probably Disney+, on which all the episodes of all the major series, including those related to Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, always come out weekly, never all together.
Apart from the number of subscribers, when it comes to streaming, it is always very difficult to have reliable numbers and parameters to understand the timing or the magnitude of certain phenomena. However, if you look at how the new series are coming out or how the most talked about ones came out, you can get some useful information.
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“Several dates,” Axios wrote, “show that 2019 was a first turning point for weekly releases,” and unsurprisingly, it marked the birth of Disney+ and Apple TV+. For example, those prepared by the analysis company Parrot Analytics, which show that from 2020 to 2021 among the most requested series in the United States, the percentage of those with a weekly edition has increased significantly.
Both services chose the weekly cadence from the beginning, that is, since the launch of their first major series (The Mandalorian and The Morning Show respectively). In 2020, despite the pandemic, other services (such as HBO Max, Peacock, and Discovery+) often debuted, again focusing on the weekly cadence. 2021 is often portrayed as the year in which binge watching was even “surpassed”. After less than a decade, it’s already “out of fashion,” according to The Ringer.
Besides trying to differentiate themselves with the Netflix model, the latest streaming platforms have chosen to focus on what is known as Appointment TV: (the “appointment TV” where we know that on a given day – once even at a certain time – there’s a new installment of a certain series It’s a way of focusing on persistence rather than intensity of vision, which is still an approach that’s still very successful, eh Squid Game has shown over the last year.The release of an entire season in one fell swoop focuses the public’s attention, which is creeping in with the fear of being left out and the fear of being spoiled if not seen soon.Especially effective is to focus the dissemination of advertising content, direct and indirect, such as memes, on social networks for a limited period of time.
In contrast, the series with weekly episodes last longer and generally peak in relevance and attention with the release of the last episode, but at a lower intensity. The second part of Stranger Things season 4 was talked about a lot for a few days and then a lot less. Week after week, piece by piece, a new Marvel series is being talked about on Disney+.
Between these two models, which have been coexisting for some time, there is none that is inherently and always better. It can be argued that a series like Squid Game, which would have come out episode after episode, would have benefited from theories, conjectures and coffee machine speeches made by those who watched them and wanted to try to reason together – without necessarily having to find out as soon as possible how it would turn out. Likewise, there would be arguments that a series full of characters, intrigue and story like Game of Thrones could be more easily followed without having to spend a week between episodes.
More than creative or distributive reasons, however, binge-watching’s rapid rise and recent slowdown have to do with economic issues, as Netflix in particular, but now services as well, transitioned from an expansionary to a conservative phase. In short, up until a few quarters ago, Netflix was aiming to attract new subscribers and be the primary alternative to traditional TV. In this sense, binge watching was seen as a great novelty and opportunity.
Now that services like Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, and Apple TV+ are primarily competing with each other, the main goal for many — Netflix in particular — is not to lose subscribers. In order not to lose subscribers, streaming services have to make sure that there are several weeks between the beginning and the end of a series, as well as new series whenever possible.
Instead of talking about the end of binge-watching, however, it seems more appropriate at the moment to talk about switching between two models. Sometimes even mixed forms between the two: for example when the first three episodes of a series are put online at the same time (to attract attention and create bonds), or when instead – as with the fourth season of Stranger Things or even earlier with the last of The Paper House – Netflix chooses to unwrap a season into two parts, perhaps to ensure there’s just over a month between the release of the first and second.
Regarding the release of Stranger Things season 2 at two different times (we’ll have to wait for Netflix’s next quarterly data to understand what a good strategy it might have been), the Wall Street Journal had written that at the end of June it “was a grand experiment performed in front of hundreds of millions of people with billions of dollars at stake and the future of entertainment at stake ».
In fact, Netflix is torn between its desire to continue binge-watching, to differentiate itself, and because so many of its subscribers seem to want it, and the need to go head-to-head with its closest competitors, to innovate to do so too. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Julia Alexander, director of analytics firm Parrot, said: “I don’t think Netflix is going to give up binge-watching its most famous shows right away because it’s an integral part of its identity; but I think it would make a lot of sense to do it with the next seasons of shows like The Crown or Bridgerton ». With these series, Alexander said, viewers are already there, they can complain, “but they would keep paying.”
There are also cases that seem to be going in a different direction: Disney+, for example, decided to release The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s long-awaited and monumental documentaries about the Beatles, who wanted to record their latest songs, in three parts : the 25, 26 and 27 November 2021.
Besides two alternating or even opposing models, it is probably more correct to talk about a series of experiments and hybridizations between these two models – and to hypothesize for the next few months. Because if, on the one hand, the advantages of appointment TV have been rediscovered, on the other hand, once many viewers have become accustomed to binge-watching, it is difficult to go back completely: as some analysts say: “It would be like putting the toothpaste back in put the tube”.
However, it’s likely that what some are already calling a “semi-binge” could complicate an already fairly fragmented context, with series scattered across more and more competing services. In other words, it would be something that’s convenient for platforms but not for viewers.
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