When Netflix launched its first original show, House Of Cards, in February 2013 it turned broadcast television on its head by releasing all 13 episodes at the same time. Netflix, which had started life by mailing out boxsets of DVDs and movies to customers, reasoned that it had always sent all episodes to its users …why would that change with the arrival of the first television show produced exclusively for the US streaming service? Netflix has stuck to the same release schedule – characterised by the bingeing that it enables for ravenous viewers – for all of its subsequent original shows.
However, it seems that rival streaming services aren’t that keen to follow in its footsteps. According to a new study by London-based market research firm Ampere Analysis, the trend of full season releases might be ebbing away. That’s because a weekly release schedule protects against subscriber churn and maintains a better engagement with content over time.
It has also allowed streaming services with smaller catalogues of original shows, like Disney+ and Apple TV+, to spread out a limited number of episodes over a longer period. That adds to the perceived value. Ampere Analysis pinpoints this as the main reason for the breakaway from the market leader’s trademark full season releases.
At launch, Disney+ had a catalogue of shows and movies just 10 percent the size of Netflix’s behemoth back catalogue, while Apple TV+ was less than one percent. Delays in production due to the difficulties filming during the global Covid-19 pandemic also hampered the supply of new original shows. In the UK, Disney+ released episodes of The Mandalorian weekly …despite the show having already finished its weekly run in the United States months earlier.
This weekly release schedule keeps subscribers locked-in for longer, Ampere Analysis’ study shows. For example, Disney+ released episodes of new original shows set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe across 34 weeks in 2021. A keen Marvel fan desperate to avoid plot spoilers would need to stay subscribed for much longer than if Disney+ had launched Hawkeye, Loki, WandaVision and Falcon And The Winter Solider as full seasons on day one.
Ampere Analysis also found that the popularity of shows tended to drop faster after a full season release. Anecdotally, it does feel like everyone is talking about the same must-see Netflix show – Tiger King, Bridgerton, Squid Game, The Tinder Swindler – for a relatively short time, with interest quickly fading away. Weekly releases (if they’re any good) tend to sustain their popularity for much longer, the study showed.
Given all that, is it any wonder that newer streaming services like Apple TV+ and Disney+ are avoiding the full season release? Amazon’s Prime Video still seems to be experimenting with its preferred delivery method, with some shows, like The Grand Tour, releasing weekly, others like the latest season of The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, arriving in two-episode chunks each week, and others, like the second season of comedy Upload, dropping all 10 episodes on a single day.
Speaking about the findings of the study, Rahul Patel, senior analyst at Ampere Analysis, said: “A weekly release pattern more easily facilitates conversation around a show. Between episodes, viewers have ample time to discuss and re-watch episodes, which is less likely to be the case if an entire season is released together. Hence, weekly releases can lessen the chance of engagement with a show decaying rapidly after its initial release.
“By extension, weekly releases can benefit lower profile titles – particularly those not based on recognisable Intellectual Property – as positive word of mouth sentiment has more time to build and spread. By releasing the totality of an unknown season in one stroke, a platform runs the risk of the title being crowded out in an increasingly competitive content market.”
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