2022 has ushered in a slew of changes for Netflix subscribers, with the streamer finally jettisoning some of the principles it had once considered sacrosanct. Subscriptions, for example, now include more than just movies and TV shows — also, now, mobile video games exclusive to Netflix. An ad tier is also coming in November, while Netflix is moving to crack down on password-sharing. And on Friday, multiple blogs and news sites declared an even bigger change is coming: A larger, maybe even a complete, shift away from the all-at-once-release of Netflix shows.
Those reports were all based on the same source. It was the What I’m Hearing email newsletter from former Hollywood Reporter editor Matt Belloni, who’s now with Puck News. He’s since clarified that everybody basically read into his newsletter something that wasn’t there, which I’ll elaborate on below.
Be that as it may, though, and as dramatic as such a shift might sound for Netflix, here’s the thing. Ready or not, that train is (kind of) already leaving the streaming station.
Netflix abandoning the binge model? Not just yet
If you’re signed up to get Matt’s dishy, often scoop-filled newsletter, there it was in September 8’s edition. “Netflix customers may like the choice to watch all episodes at once for every show, but they’d also like the service to cost $1 a month and deliver butterscotch ice cream sundaes, and that’s not a viable long-term business,” Belloni wrote, as part of a larger piece opining about Hastings and the current state of play at Netflix.
Continuing, Belloni pointed out that internal company data apparently suggests that stretching out the release cadence of Netflix shows to a weekly rollout, instead of an all-at-once drop, won’t meaningfully reduce subscriber churn. He also adds that there are two important facts that would seem to suggest the current status quo is untenable:
One, Netflix’s subscriber churn is ticking higher now. And two, it’s the only streamer among all the major services that defaults to releasing shows all at once.
And then, the bombshell that Belloni says everyone misread. “But for the most part,” he writes, “Hastings has seemed unwilling to pivot off the binge model because he hasn’t needed or wanted to. Now, it appears, he does.”
In response to one of the blogs that took Belloni’s newsletter tidbit and ran with it, Bloomberg writer Lucas Shaw — a frequent guest on Belloni’s all things Hollywood podcast The Town — tweeted “This is not accurate?” Belloni himself chimed in on the thread, to clarify: “That was a ‘should’ happen, not an ‘is’ happening.”
Netflix shows on a weekly schedule
Even so, there is a case to be made that releasing Netflix shows on something like a weekly basis could be a good thing for the platform. Right now, for example, the weekly, appointment-viewing obsessiveness that a show like House of the Dragon attracts doesn’t really exist among Netflix subscribers. All of whom watch shows at different, individual paces.
That also hinders, somewhat, the community that can be built around a show. For an example of this, just open your podcast app of choice. Count how many podcasts there are dedicated to a show like The Bachelor, full of hosts dishing about each successive episode’s highlights as they air.
One imagines, by the way, that Netflix’s weekly Top 10 lists would look a lot different following a move to more weekly release schedules. No way a show like Echoes can garner 36.5 million hours viewed worldwide if there’s only one episode to watch during a given week. Instead of, as is the case now, all 7 episodes.
And here’s something else to consider. As I alluded to above, we’re actually already starting to go down this road, of Netflix shows rolling out on a weekly basis. Episodes for many of its reality series, like Love is Blind and The Circle, come out weekly. Big shows like Stranger Things and Ozark are increasingly getting broken up into two tranches. And most of the Netflix K-dramas I’ve seen — like the newly released Little Women — parcel out their episodes weekly.
Bottom line: That’s a long way from “Netflix is abandoning the binge model entirely.”
All the streamer is doing right now is simply letting go of its previous rigidity along these lines, which is not the same thing. And you know what? That’s not such a bad idea.
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