Is it time for Netflix to ditch the binge model?

The Witcher Season 2 - Courtesy of Netflix/Jay Maidment
The Witcher Season 2 - Courtesy of Netflix/Jay Maidment /

When Netflix burst on the scene in 2013 with their first smash hit, House of Cards, they changed the TV landscape as we know it. Suddenly, our TV culture took a sharp turn from weekly viewings to on-demand watching, particularly because of Netflix’s groundbreaking viewing method: The binge-watch.

While viewers were certainly watching TV in lengthy sittings before Netflix, via DVD box sets and marathons on cable networks, the idea of a show releasing every episode at one time for viewers to watch as quickly as they could be brand new. It became such a sensation that “binge-watch,” was declared word of the year for 2015.

Since then, Netflix has seen massive success with the binge model, with shows like Stranger Things and Sex Education. Though, it seems that, as of late, Netflix shows just haven’t been getting the amount of buzz they used to.

The outlier for Netflix was mega-hit Squid Game, which pulled in 1.65 billion streaming hours in 28 days and became a cultural phenomenon, with massive Twitter and TikTok trends about the show.

But, besides Squid Game, the conversation around Netflix releases has been much quieter, overshadowed by the stiff streaming competition Netflix has gained in recent years.

In particular, streaming services that have been dominating the online conversation over the last couple of months have been HBOMax and Disney+, which each utilize the weekly release model for their hit shows.

The weekly release model has become a sure-fire way for the many other streaming services currently saturating the market to stand out from Netflix. Coincidentally, the weekly releases also propel these shows to the top of the Internet conversation for much longer, as proven by Hawkeye’s constant appearance on Variety’s Trending TV Chart.

As the weeks went on, Hawkeye remained in the most-talked-about shows for each of its episodes, culminating with over 300k engagements for its finale on December 22, 2021.

In comparison, The Witcher season 2 premiered December 17, 2021, and had 337k engagements during its premiere week, but by the week after, dropped to just 84k engagements. These numbers prove that the binge model allows a show to be extremely popular the week of its release, but quickly falls out of the conversation once viewers power through all the episodes. This leaves these shows relatively un-discussed until the new season drops almost a year later, giving them just a week of the spotlight in our popular culture.

According to Variety’s Trending TV Chart, the two most Tweeted about shows in the last seven days have been HBOMax’s Peacemaker and Euphoria. Peacemaker has generated almost 500k Tweets in the past seven days, while Netflix’s highest placing entry, Ozark, comes in fourth place, with a little over 200k.

Ozark, though, is currently placing fifth on Netflix’s U.S. Top 10, with the top spot going to Shondaland’s Inventing Anna, which premiered on February 11, 2022. Interestingly, this series has garnered almost no buzz in its first week of release, despite being the most-watched show on the platform; it does not appear at all on Variety’s Trending TV Chart, which tracks the past seven days.

The current weekly buzz around titles like Peacemaker, Euphoria, and The Book of Boba Fett has some asking the question: Should Netflix ditch their binge model?

Euphoria’s success in particular, which has seen climbing ratings throughout its second season and ratings up 100% from their first, makes the answer seem easy: Weekly releases are the way to go.

But, Netflix’s current ratings are nothing to look down upon, with the Nielsen streaming ratings from late January showing that, of the top 10 most-streamed shows of the week of January 17, 2022, Netflix occupied nine of those spots. While the conversation surrounding these shows seems to die out quickly, the viewership is still there, throwing a wrench into the conversation surrounding the binge model.

This then poses an even more important question: What’s more important? Viewership or online conversation and word-of-mouth?

For Netflix, unlike its Disney and Warner counterparts, the latter is where their focus should lie.

While having subscribers constantly watching Netflix’s content is great, it doesn’t make them any money, as they don’t show any ads during shows to generate money from each individual stream. Rather, they are only able to make money when new users subscribe to the platform.

After Squid Game’s release, Netflix saw a surge of 4.4 million new subscribers, and the company credits the popularity and word-of-mouth of the show for the unprecedented subscription uptick. This proves that to gain those crucial new subscribers, Netflix shows need to stay the topic of conversation for much longer than the week their binge-model affords them.

Ironically, a company like Disney, with its streamer Disney+, doesn’t need the extended hype of the weekly release, considering its many other methods of revenue such as toys, games, and theme parks.

For Netflix, though, it may have to ditch the model that put it on the map if it wants to survive its toughest competition yet in the Streaming Wars.

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