What’s the deal with streaming services’ switch to a weekly release TV model?

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Photo courtesy of imdb.com

Characters from the Disney+ Series “The Mandalorian” are pictured.

Cassandra Dryburgh, Staff Writer

When I first found out that the Marvel TV shows on Disney+ would be released weekly — as opposed to a full season release — I was surprised. It seemed so counterintuitive to what a streaming service is in the first place.

Yet here Disney was, only a little over a year since its launch, putting out a show like they did in the pre-streaming era. Even stranger, “The Mandalorian,” a wildly popular show on their platform, had been airing this way since Disney+ first came out.

Why?

The whole point of streaming services, it seemed, was that one could watch at their own pace. I wasn’t sure this was going to work out. It felt like taking a step backwards in convenience.

So I was even more surprised when not only did I love the weekly release model, but “Wandavision” was actually really popular for its entire eight-episode stretch. As of February 2021, it was the No. 1 most-viewed show on streaming services.

So why might this be?

In order to figure that out, we have to look at the differences between the two main models used in terms of releasing TV shows: new, and old.

In 2013, Netflix released the entire first season of its original show, “House of Cards,” subsequently changing the way we looked at television. After that, releasing TV shows one season at a time as opposed to one episode at a time became commonplace. It was from this model that binge watching was born.

You could spend hours upon hours on Netflix, watching shows back-to-back, and it would be extremely unlikely you would ever run out of content with the rate that Netflix produced new media.
Despite this sounding like an entertainment utopia, there are actually some downfalls to consuming media in this way.

Since the process of watching a TV show like this is super streamlined, it can make for a less mindful watching experience. If you are given all of something at once, you are going to inevitably miss some of the information there. Critical thinking about the pieces that make up a show is much harder when you blow through it all in a few days. Plus, it’s easier to leave just playing in the background when it runs like this, with each episode bleeding into the next.

The weekly episode release method gained traction on streaming services lately, and it seems bizarre. It’s very much opposite what we have seen become the norm over the past few years, and yet so many streaming services have hopped on the once-a-week episode bandwagon.

It just doesn’t align with the “better, faster, stronger” attitude of business.

Convenience is profitable. And yet, airing shows like this is actually working out for both companies and consumers. If a show is released only once a week, and someone was drawn to the streaming service for that show, they have to stay subscribed, and therefore pay money for as long as it takes for the show to come out. Otherwise, they could pay the initial fee, watch their show in a few days if they were really committed, and then cancel it.

Also, conversations about TV shows go on for longer, which is good for the creators of the show, as well as the companies presenting them. Hype and suspense build up, causing the shows to only get bigger.

Not only is this release model profitable, but it’s a great way to experience a show from the audience’s perspective.

Since the show comes out once a week, it creates a routine, and not only that, but a collective experience. After a new episode of “Wandavision” came out, people would spend all day talking about it on social media. It felt like everyone was watching it along with each other, because the scheduling made it that way.

Personally, shows that release like this have had a way of sticking. After all, they do take up a part of one’s consciousness for as long as a season goes. And with the substantial amount of time between each episode, you get time to think about what you saw. The anticipation leads to more conversation, speculation, and analysis.

No wonder TV shows that release this way feel so big. In a way they really are that big because of the shared experience of a community of people watching them along with one another.

Weekly-releases have been enjoyed by many people as they’ve reappeared.

Maybe this is marking a shift in our attitudes towards consumption in general. Especially as we realize that mass-consumerism isn’t necessarily the best for our society, and certainly not our planet. Many people are coming to value experience over convenience, and rediscovering how slower, more patient experiences can be more fulfilling.