Binge-watch vs. Weekly Releases: Fighting for Loyal Viewers

To binge or not to binge: is that still the question?

A recent survey on the viewing habits of American audiences suggests that television shows released weekly are now more popular than binge releases. 

We've all been there. It's 3 am on a Tuesday, and yet the lure of one more episode is just so hard to resist. Is it Stranger Things? Is it old episodes of Boardwalk Empire or Law and Order: SVU? It doesn't really matter. The “next episode” button taunts us; we are the irresponsible majority that has work in the morning, but we keep watching anyway.

We are the binge generation.

And yet, the tide is turning as more viewers favor the weekly release model that used to structure our lives long before Netflix came along.

Like the radio diehards who believed TV wouldn't last, we are on the precipice of a cultural change. Are we moving backward, or was binge-watching an unsustainable way of life?

What Are People Watching & How Are They Watching It?

The “Streaming Wars” often take center stage: who acquired the most streamers, and will Netflix ever recover from all this competition? CNN+ was gone in only a week, but Paramount+, Disney+, and HBOMax arrived with a boom and a catalog of original programming and classic titles, making it difficult for consumers to decide which platforms to subscribe to.

Yet before all that, there was simply television. If your favorite program was on, you had to have your butt on the couch and the TV on. It was a different era.

Reelgood – the most extensive streaming guide in the U.S. and U.K. – identified the most successful TV shows in the U.S. by how many consecutive weeks they spent in the top 20 most-watched from Jan 1 to May 15, 2022. The results may surprise you.

The Winners Are…

The most successful TV shows were Yellowstone (Peacock), Severance (Apple TV), Euphoria (HBO Max)and The Book of Boba Fett (Disney+), all weekly releases. The most successful binge release was Amazon Prime's Reacher, which was in the top 20 most-watched for eight consecutive weeks. Yellowstone, by comparison, was in the top 20 for 18 straight weeks. Severance remained in the top 20 for 12 weeks, Euphoria for 10, and The Book of Boba Fett for eight. 

This data suggests that binge-watching, while still a popular way to consume entertainment, does not have the staying power that weekly releases have. Other successful binge releases such as Netflix's Inventing Anna and HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death were only in the top 20 for five consecutive weeks. 

Weekly Releases Strike Back

“There is no doubt that episodic releases have regained popularity in recent years,” Daniela Velasco – the Lead Data Analyst for Reelgood – told us. This trend towards weekly releases increases viewer loyalty, meaning customers stick around for extended periods. “As multiple services compete for subscribers and try to avoid churn, it is the retention aspect of the episodic release that caused its comeback to streaming,” says Daniela.

Episodic TV could continue to grow in popularity. Netflix's juggernaut Stranger Things season 4 was split into two parts. At the same time, shows like Hulu's Only Murders in the Building initially released the first few episodes before reverting to a weekly release schedule. 

These examples suggest a pairing of how TV shows will be formatted. There won't be one model for everyone. “There are no indications that binge watching will die off but rather that the binge and episode release strategies will coexist and merge,” Daniela told us.

“Weekly releases also allow new shows to build word-of-mouth, reducing the possibility they will be forgotten or lost in a sea of content a few days after a debut,” she says.

Despite the number of Americans working remotely, a weekly release structure could make room for the return of water cooler conversation, but on Slack.

Bingeing & Beyond

While Netflix's Orange Is the New Black may have introduced the phrase “binge watch” into the vernacular, people have arguably been binge-watching television as long as reruns and syndication have existed.

“Binge watching allows viewers to consume an entire season of a show in a short period of time, meaning that they can avoid spoilers and enjoy the story as it was meant to be experienced,” says Oberon Copeland, CEO of VeryInformed. Despite its advantages, Oberon cautions against an overabundance of binge-watching. “Binge watching,” he says, “can also lead to burnout, as viewers can quickly become overwhelmed by a constant stream of information.”

The negative impact of binge viewing has been researched, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 2021 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that viewers often report “higher levels of negative emotional triggers” and “lack of control over binge watching.”

Like any vice, binge-watching is best in moderation. The study went on to find “that binge watching increased during the pandemic, with greater increases among individuals reporting higher COVID-related stress, especially those with obesity, and concomitant effects on eating, and highlight a need for interventions to minimize the obesogenic impact of binge-watching.”

A renewed interest in the weekly release model could benefit providers and viewers alike. While providers see the model‘s potential for increasing subscriber retention, weekly release may have a moderating influence on viewers who struggle with the “Next episode” into the wee hours of the morning.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.