The OTT sector heralded one of the biggest changes in entertainment viewership when Netflix arrived on the scene; upending the traditional weekly scheduling format of television networks in favour of the “binge”. By eliminating the adherence to a release schedule, Netflix enabled users to view whole seasons of TV shows, or multiple movies back-to-back, in one single sitting. This model proved so popular that many other OTT service providers (including Hulu and Prime Video) adopted the “binge” model, too.
However, the trend of weekly releases has made a strong comeback in recent months, riding the coat-tails of Disney+ and Apple TV; and what we now have is a highly nuanced divide between the two avenues of OTT streaming for viewers. So, let’s break down the key differences between the two, and the various categories in which one may be better than the other (and vice versa).
The most obvious distinction is the time barrier (it’s in the name, after all). Bingeing allows us to sit and watch as much content as we want at our convenience. Weekly releases force us to wait for subsequent premieres and essentially force us to stick to the platform’s timeline. It’s pretty straightforward that bingeing wins out on this parameter. Yet, the extended time horizon for weekly releases may actually be an advantage for other parameters.
For a fan of a weekly release-bound show, the intervening six and a half days serve as nothing but time to mull over the events of the previous episode. This may seem detrimental, but it actually permits discussion and speculation about the show – something that is always a bonus. Disney+ in particular capitalised on this in colossal fashion with their slate of MCU shows, with each weekly episode sparking chaotic amounts of conversation, debate and fan theories amongst millions of people worldwide. From June 9 till present, the name “Kang the Conqueror” has been trending on Twitter for an uninterrupted span – a symptom of the raging popularity and consequent discourse surrounding “Loki”. On the other hand, Netflix’s “binge” model can effectively be called a “binge-and-purge” model, with viewers moving onto the next offering with very limited discourse (exceptions do exist, but are rare). And this directly leads us to the next category…
Keeping discussions and theories alive for weeks at a stretch keeps shows on a weekly release slate relevant. A 10-episode slate launched weekly means viewers have to wait for nine weeks, but it means viewers are hooked on for nine weeks too. Of course, a show needs to be good enough to engage people in that manner, but compared to a full season binge, people get far more invested in weekly release-bound shows; which also means the platform, the studio, and the production gain an extended period of relevance.
Weekly releases have beaten bingeing two to one so far, but here is where we meet murky waters in our comparison. In my opinion, the declining relevance of binge-able shows implies a declining risk of spoilers as well (since the discourse dies out sooner, meaning a lesser chance of encountering spoiler territory). This leans in favour of bingeing as the winner in this category; but the converse also makes logical sense – it is easier to catch up to an incomplete season of a show with weekly releases than it is to catch up to a full season of a single release show (due to the large amount of time between episodes), and staying up-to-date also means no risk of spoilers from friends or social media. To stay safe, we shall deem this category a tie.
As we see, it’s a precarious arena, but weekly releases may actually make for a better experience in viewership than bingeing. Either way, OTT platforms are far too aware of this and have already tried out various compromises. Hulu, for example, introduced the concept of a “quasi-binge”, where it drops the first 2-3 episodes of series in one go, and reverts to a weekly schedule for the rest of the season. Hotstar has always stuck to the weekly premiere model, but makes all of its content available for a binge immediately afterwards.
The momentum has shifted towards weekly releases, as Disney is slowly upping its offerings after a lonely start. But it is also clear that Netflix and the “binge” aren’t going anywhere. We can debate all day long about which model is better, but when all is said and done, we can still enjoy (or frown about) as long as the OTT sector captures our entertainment fix.
(Picture for representation purpose only)