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Is the binge model doomed? Netflix is still committed, but rivals want you to wait

Published Oct 19th, 2019 2:07PM EDT
Netflix vs Disney Plus vs Apple TV
Image: Eric Charbonneau/Shutterstock

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Apple held a splashy premiere event a few days ago at the Regency Village Theater in Westwood, California to unveil its new Apple TV+ series For All Mankind. It’s one of the marquee launch titles that will be available on November 1st — a drama that offers an alternative history of the “Space Race” that in real life, of course, saw the US beat Russia to the moon. It’s got solid talent behind it, like Golden Globe nominee and Emmy Award-winner Ronald D. Moore, who also reimagined Battlestar Galactica in the early 2000s and garnered legions of fans. And it’s told through the eyes of fictional astronauts, engineers, and their families.

The trailer has actually intrigued me enough to check out the series and give it a chance, so I’m probably going to give the service a try. As a reminder, Apple TV+ costs $4.99/month after a seven-day free trial.

Here’s my only problem with For All Mankind, however. According to Apple, starting November 1, the first three episodes of the show “will be available to watch on Apple TV+. New episodes will continue to roll out weekly, every Friday.” Sigh. In my opinion, it’s unfortunate that experimenting with release schedules that don’t allow for bingeing is starting to become more prevalent.

I’m actually going to go so far as to say there is no good customer-friendly reason for a streamer to not allow users to binge their content if the entire season is already locked and loaded.

To be fair, it’s not just Apple. Disney+ is venturing down this same path. One of the most highly anticipated series coming to Disney’s new streamer, for example, is The Mandalorian, a kind of space outlaw drama set within the universe of Star Wars. When that streamer launches on November 12, we’ll have two episodes of The Mandalorian within a week of the service launching (one episode on November 12, the second on November 15). But, again, both The Mandalorian and For All Mankind are all-new shows, bringing new characters and worlds to viewers. Is it really the best idea to tease audiences with just a couple episodes of something they’ve never seen before and hope they come back? What is this, 2005?

I had a spirited disagreement with someone this week about the binge model versus a delayed release schedule. What set off this person was a comment from Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos after Netflix’s latest quarterly earnings release in recent days. The comment was Sarandos saying how much he enjoys HBO’s Succession (which is a fantastic drama, kind of a Game of Thrones but for media buffs), but that what he doesn’t like are the show’s weekly air dates. “If I liked the show a little bit less I’d probably burn out on it,” Sarandos said. “Because I get aggravated every week waiting for the next episode.”

There are some things Netflix just doesn’t get, this person told me. Letting us binge takes all the buzz away from a show. Here’s a Twitter thread making the same point:

Setting aside the fact that the existence of Netflix’s Stranger Things proves that argument wrong, this person also told me a binge model would be wrong for Succession because there’s no way you’d want to watch multiple episodes back to back. It’s kind of a dark show at times and a bit much to take in.

My counter-argument to that is — just because an entire season of a show is there for you to binge, that doesn’t mean you have to, you know, stay up all night and don’t eat and force yourself to sit through each episode uninterrupted. You pick it up and put it down, like a book. Because what’s the alternative? Life happens. I may or may not have time according to a TV network executive’s schedule to watch his show. Maybe I’ll come back to it, maybe I won’t. And, as I said, there is nothing audience-friendly whatsoever about a staggered release schedule. That is 100% a vestige of an antiquated era of TV, when shows were built around advertising and were in fact vehicles for ads. Freed from the constraints of an advertising-based broadcast model, better to let viewers watch what they want, when they want. Let them be the ones to decide that they see your entire season sitting there, available, but they’ll watch a bit at a time. Or the whole thing at once.

The proof will certainly be in the pudding, or rather the viewership numbers once these new streamers and shows start rolling out. But half-launching a new show, on a new streaming service, seems to me a fundamental miscalculation about the nature of the so-called Streaming Wars. It is, when you come down to it, a battle for eyeballs, for my attention. You need to give me something to watch. In fact, you need to give me as much to watch as possible. If you don’t, someone else will.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.