You can teach a new-media company some old-media tricks, but it doesn't mean that Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) is changing its binge-happy ways. The leading premium streaming service is defending its release strategy after several online media outlets are pointing out that a growing number of shows on Netflix are no longer making all of their episodes available right away.
Netflix has changed the way that viewers approach new seasons of shows. Folks can watch an entire season of a sitcom or serialized drama the weekend it comes out -- as long as their eyelids are up to the challenge. Traditional television networks never had much of a choice but to serve up new episodes in weekly installments. On-demand technology didn't exist, and when it did, they weren't the ones behind the wheel.
But now that media and tech giants are setting up camp on the cloud, it's surprising that many of them continue to prefer the old weekly cadence of new episodes. The disrupted are not getting the disruptor's memo, but now even Netflix finds itself leaning on old-school release schedules for a limited number of its offerings.
Netflix has resorted to delayed releases for some of its shows, but there's a method to its madness. With everyone from Barstool Sports to ComicBook.com reporting that Netflix is tweaking the way it puts out at least two of its shows, it's easy to wonder if binge-viewing may be a thing of the past as it relates to new seasons of content. Netflix is trying to squash that notion.
the weekly release of licensed titles (like Great British Baking Show) isn't new and in hopes of keeping Rhythm + Flow's winner a surprise, we're trying something new! but not happening with more new shows than that— Netflix US (@netflix) September 3, 2019
There's a reason why Rhythm + Flow -- a new hip-hop talent competition -- will be releasing just a handful of episodes a week. It's a music competition like American Idol or The Voice, and the best way to build buzz is with spread-out installments so more people get caught up in the new show. In some cases, like the licensed seventh season of The Great British Baking Show, there could be several factors in exercising portion control.
One can argue that the same thing can be said about serialized dramas. They also build up to sometimes surprising conclusions. However, Netflix feels that there is less at stake there. Folks will be watching the third season of Stranger Things years from now, but there is more urgency to a music or cooking competition that may grow stale over time.
It's clear that releasing new episodes all at once benefits consumers. People love watching shows on their terms, and there's a reason Netflix expects to have nearly 159 million paid subscribers worldwide by the end of this month. But it's not as if going the weekly route has hurt a show's popularity. Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale was able to stretch its appeal over a couple of months this summer with weekly installments, and it's still winning accolades.
We'll see if consumer expectations change come November when two major services -- behemoths of consumer discretionary stocks -- launch with theirs hearts set on weekly releases of new episodes for their exclusive content. Netflix hasn't been able to establish the standard for new releases in the market it dominates, but it's too soon for it to surrender at the expense of people who are fans of binge-viewing.