While no one is denying the massive impact that binge watching has had on the home entertainment industry — not to mention our social lives — actual binge behavior tends to be less excessive than its name implies.
In fact, relatively few streaming subscribers are calling in sick to hole up and consume a full season (typically 12 or more episodes) or multiple seasons of a favorite show, a recent survey by Reach3 Insights indicates.
The survey confirmed that bingeing is virtually ubiquitous now: Subscribers report spending an average of 12.5 hours per week watching streaming services, and fully 92% said they binge-watch shows on a regular basis.
However, it also found subscribers, on average, reporting that they binge-watch just four episodes per sitting, with only 8% reporting that they regularly watch more than 10 episodes at once.
So why did scores of Netflix subscribers recently threaten to revolt in response to a (false) rumor that the service was poised to drop its practice of releasing full seasons of new series all at once, in favor of a releasing episodes weekly?
Well, some viewers do engage in true, full-season binges. And many others like watching several episodes at a time because it helps them keep track of plot lines, use blocks of spare time efficiently, and relish a relatively benign indulgence, according to the survey.
Actually, as Netflix has pointed out, it has long released “The Great British Baking Show” in the U.S. on a weekly basis, and that show and other licensed programs on a weekly basis in the U.K. While it recently began releasing “Hustle & Flow” episodes weekly in an attempt to keep the winner a surprise, it has no intention of abandoning its once-revolutionary strategy of releasing full seasons of blockbusters. Or so it insists.
But newer streamers are taking a more traditional tack. Disney-controlled Hulu was already releasing episodes weekly. And now Disney+ is doing the same, making fanatic fans of premiere series like “The Mandalorian” wait for next week’s installment.
Apple TV+, as well as HBO Now, also use the one-episode-per-week model.
Given the multiplying number of streamers jockeying for share by engaging in a game of wildly escalating original content production, some viewers are feeling overwhelmed, confused and frustrated about not having enough time to partake fully in the video smorgasbord.
With streaming still being relatively new, and the choices of services and delivery devices and options changing every day, consumer behaviors are still forming. And media companies are of course experimenting with release frequency, as well as many other aspects of the experience, as they jockey to differentiate themselves and build viewership that, they pray, will eventually convert to enough paid subscribers to turn a profit.
This Reach3 survey would seem to indicate that parceling out releases is actually more in line with how most people consume streamed series.
Which might mean that the trend toward streamers adopting the traditional linear TV model in this respect could have a number of benefits, without that much of a downside.
If viewers are accepting this — perhaps even welcoming the chance to catch up on high-quality shows — as they seem to be with Disney+ and the others, media companies can extend the new-show buzz. Buzz is, of course, a valuable commodity in itself for purposes of building and maintaining audiences.
Perhaps even more important, drawing the buzz out might allow for better controlling the number of big shows and movies they have to produce, notes Leigh Admirand, SVP and founding partner of Reach3. (I was about to write “have to churn out,” and that’s probably the more apt wording, since consumer perceptions of receiving a continuous feed of new content in return for their bucks will most certainly be a crucial determinant in minimizing paid subscriber churn rates. )
Admirand suggests that, instead of full seasons, or one per week, services might consider releasing smaller numbers of episodes at one time.
While I doubt that even that can work for Netflix at this stage — since turning off a significant block of paid subscribers by dropping full-season releases would seem suicidal in the throes of the streaming wars — I certainly think the new streamers are wise to avoid following in Netflix’s path on that score. Or at the very least make full-season releases a rare, much-ballyhooed event when a major infusion of new subscribers is required.
As Admirand points out, finding a balance, rather than pursuing a one-size-fits-all model, probably makes sense.
That’s certainly true with nearly everything else on the consumer front these days. Why should streaming be any different?
Reach3 surveyed 300-plus streaming subscribers in October, via mobile messaging networks, says its method produces scientifically validated insights that are projectable to the U.S. population, and as or more accurate than using email or other traditional response channels. Mobile captures “stream-of-consciousness” attitudes, opinions and feedback by using chat, video and other channels, the firm says.