Netflix’s horrible binge watching content distribution model

posted at 3:31 pm on June 8, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

This weekend I took some time out to watch the first few episodes of the second season of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. To be specific, I watched four episodes on Saturday in between taking care of other tasks. OitNB isn’t the first of their original programming I’ve watched and enjoyed. I’ve seen all of Lilyhammer, and most of the first season of House of Cards. (It’s not that I didn’t like it. I got distracted and kept meaning to go watch the rest, but just haven’t gotten around to it.) But before you begin to think this is a review of their programming, that’s not the point here.

The issue which I was discussing with a few friends this weekend was a fairly simple question: why in the world does Netflix release an entire season of shows at one time? I’d love to talk to the marketing magnates at Netflix who came up with this brainstorm, because I really can’t think of a profit or market driven justification.

When I asked among some other laymen, one answer offered was that neither ratings nor advertising revenue are a factor for Netflix original programming the way that they are for network and cable offerings. True enough, but that’s really not an explanation of why they do it this way… it’s just a reason they don’t have to do it the other way. What, if anything, is the advantage to this?

Honestly, I’m not seeing one. But there does seem to be a clear disadvantage, though it may not relate directly to immediate revenue. One of the chief drivers for movies and television programs is word of mouth. You need to generate buzz and get people talking if you want to get large numbers of viewers. It’s a commodity that no amount of advertising dollars can match. And the television shows that really generate this buzz do it week after week. One of the first shows that comes to mind currently is Game of Thrones. It’s a huge success for HBO, and every Monday morning I wind up talking to people about what happened on this week’s episode. Later in the week, speculation often crops up over what will or won’t happen next, who will get killed off or how Tyrion is going to get his butt out of a jam this week.

That sort of continual speculation leads to huge in-person and online fan bases spreading the word and attracting new viewers. Fan forums crop up where strangers from around the world can debate, praise or curse the show in posts which go on for hundreds or thousands of comments. And this is precisely what’s missing with Orange is the New Black, Lilyhammer and the other shows mentioned above. People binge watch the entire season as fast as they can and then it’s done. They may go into the office and chat about it for a few days, but after that, what’s left to say? The show is over for at least a long span of months or perhaps permanently.

I couldn’t find any hard numbers concerning online fan forums, but a quick Google search on Game of Thrones communities turned up a huge list of choices, many with hundreds of threads going on for ages. A similar search for OitNB returned far fewer choices, and the ones I found weren’t exactly active.

I wasn’t the first person to notice this seemingly missed opportunity. Matt Lewis shared some similar thoughts about Arrested Development a while back.

Netflix has decided to release their original series’ all-at-once. This encourages binge watching, which I enjoy. But it also serves to undercut the buzz they might otherwise garner as viewers anticipate the release of new episodes each week. As a consequence, their original shows debut to much fanfare, but then fail to sustain the type of ongoing commentary that, say, HBO’s Girls, elicits each week.

Had Netflix release the episodes on a weekly basis, reviewers and cultural critics might have held out hope for the show to fix its problems. In this case, that’s not an option. The verdict seems to be that the only reason to see this is for the sake of nostalgia.

I get that Netflix is trying to build an entirely new paradigm in content development, so they want to do things differently. And I suppose they can claim some credit for spawning the phenomenon of “binge watching” today. But is coining that phrase worth the loss of the buzz described above? And do you really like binge watching? Sure, it’s a long, sustained rush like staying up all night reading a great novel, but then you’re done. Anticipation is the larger part of enjoyment, isn’t it? Even if Netflix doesn’t want to do the television formula of one show per week on the same night, they should at least throttle it back to two per week or something along those lines.


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I guess the only advantage of having an entire season released at once is that you can watch the season whenever you want. But there are just so many disadvantages such as trying to avoid spoilers and having to wait so long for the next season if you watch the current season right away.

SoulGlo on June 9, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Lol. Ok, I may have to take that back a bit because now in Ep 6, Taryn Manning’s character disses Hillary. That’s always good.

Taryn Manning is a great actress. Still hasn’t surpassed her role in ‘The Breed” tho as far as I’m concerned. I love movies when obnoxious college kids get killed one by one. It’s just a thing with me.

WhatSlushfund on June 9, 2014 at 8:44 AM

Love Netflix except when they dump a whole series before I have a chance to finish. I wish I had known that it was about to drop into a black hole. They need to put a ***warning*** notice on a series that is about to be relegated to the trash heap of TV history.

Other than that, the choices are purely individual. Binge, no binge, switch from one binge to another on alternate days, whatever. I generally watch no more than 2 episodes of any one series at a time.

I can’t believe we’re discussing this. What’s next? What’s the best way to carve a roast chicken?

Qzsusy on June 9, 2014 at 8:47 AM

.

That’s the way things are headed with services like Roku and Apple tv, cable/satellite is heading towards antiquity quickly,

That’s what I say, yeah, who wants to wait months to find out how a football season is gonna go? Just watch the 2013 season of the Seahawks all at once, get it over with. And who wants to wait months to find out who’s gonna win the World Series? Just pick up a DVD of the 2014 Season in December and watch the whole 162 games, plus playoffs, over the Christmas season. Fast forwarding thru commercials, you should be able to watch the whole season in about 3 weeks. The bad part about this is that someone might have leaked out who the winner is before you find time to watch it all. But think of what this will do to the News business. Watch all the morning news shows at the end of each month, then you won’t have to wait to find out what happened.

Redteam on June 9, 2014 at 8:52 AM

Lol. Ok, I may have to take that back a bit because now in Ep 6, Taryn Manning’s character disses Hillary. That’s always good.

Taryn Manning is a great actress. Still hasn’t surpassed her role in ‘The Breed” tho as far as I’m concerned. I love movies when obnoxious college kids get killed one by one. It’s just a thing with me.

WhatSlushfund on June 9, 2014 at 8:44 AM

Yes, I’m bumping my own post. So what?

It just got me thinking though — what about a slasher film that focused on pajama boy types. Now that would be good.

Hollywood: Gimme a ring. I’ve got lots of other ideas.

Slush

WhatSlushfund on June 9, 2014 at 9:14 AM

Sorry to spam, but this has all got me thinking. I guess that part of the mythology of the slasher film is that it is the pajama boys that do the killing. Like it’s their “revenge” or something, relative to the frat kids. But the way that society is trending, wouldn’t it be better to have the obnoxious pajama boys as the victims? They seem to be everywhere these days.

(I could seriously write a script about this off the top of my head.

Scene opens: A bunch of pajama boys and the girls that love them are in a cabin smugly sitting around talking about how “dumb” evil Conservatives are. And it’s so far out into the wilderness that their cell phones don’t work. In the first third of the movie they get their gross sex acts on, in between them drinking coffee and looking down their noses at us. Then a killer who is fed up with irrational pretentiousness begins to stalk them.

I’m telling you guys, this would make millions.

WhatSlushfund on June 9, 2014 at 9:29 AM

It’s because the network releases them as a seasonal bundle to go along with their DVD releases. They don’t want to release the medialess content until the DVDs are ready. And they can’t very well release those on a week-by-week basis. Sometime after physical media content goes the way of laserdiscs they will release them on an episodic basis.

(It’s not really hard to figure out if you put a little thought and observation into the matter, Jazz.)

WhatSlushfund on June 9, 2014 at 9:29 AM

LOL!

GWB on June 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

I don’t talk to people about what I’m watching on TV, and am not really interested in hearing about it from others. There are more interesting and important things IMO.

Guess I’m not part of the ‘buzz’ demographic. That cheers me up a bit this rainy Monday!

s1im on June 9, 2014 at 10:43 AM

It’s how their business formed that manages how they function now.

Netflix stated as a “digital & mail Blockbuster” if you will.

Now digital is stronger, but that’s where it started. Keep that in mind.

And the TV series they had were the “season box set DVD” releases like you could rent. So they released a season at a time for everyone else’s TV shows at the same time they hit the rental market.

Now that’s what people are used to and have come to expect from them for years.

You might not get your TV shows the day they show on Cable (or for up to 18 months later generally); but you’ll get them in a re-watchable format, so you can watch them in order and not miss/skip anything.

Why would they think to change their distribution model only for their shows? And would their viewers accept that, given they’re accustomed to “how things work” for every other TV show?

gekkobear on June 9, 2014 at 11:41 AM

I guess they’re looking for viewers who don’t/can’t/won’t arrange their lives around the television schedule. I might have one day a month to sit down and enjoy more than a hit and miss half hour of tv. When I get that chance, I want to settle in and make the most of the time I have.

2nd Ammendment Mother on June 9, 2014 at 1:04 PM

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