Is this the end of binge culture?
Leaders in entertainment are exploring alternatives to the immediacy consumption model that has gained popularity with the rise of streaming. They are now offering audiences an opportunity to savor and ceremonialize the viewing experience.
Netflix is slowing down its release schedules. The streaming giant announced in March 2021 that two of its unscripted competition shows, The Circle and Too Hot to Handle, are moving from a drop release to a timed release, debuting a batch of new episodes weekly. The move away from the binge model it popularized—in which an entire series is released at once—is intended to give viewers more time to digest and engage with the shows. The announcement explained that the platform is “experimenting with the release format so you have time to dissect and dish on every step of the competition as it unfolds.”
As Julie DeTraglia, vice president and head of research and insights at Hulu, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, linear “event” television offers shared, synchronous cultural moments. “There is still something about that collective experience where people want to watch TV together and be part of a cultural conversation,” DeTraglia says.
Doubling back on its decision to go all-in on streaming, Warner Bros is also moving away from immediate releases. WarnerMedia announced in March that the company will return to theatrical releases for blockbusters, starting in 2022. This comes just three months after WarnerMedia’s 2021 experimental move to release major films directly into living rooms on its HBO Max streaming service, for which it received harsh criticism from directors and creators.
Newer streaming platforms such as Disney+ and Apple TV+ have been committed to weekly releases from launch, arguably in an effort to distinguish themselves from Netflix’s bingeable model.
While they may not foretell the end of binge culture altogether, these moves indicate a growing distinction between quick-dip, snackable content and more ritualized viewing habits. “If you look at shows that do really well with the weekly cadence, those are shows that have built over time and are really driven by conversation,” explained Natalie Jarvey of the Hollywood Reporter. Shorter comedic shows, on the other hand, are easily digestible and therefore more conducive to binge formats. “I just wouldn’t be surprised if they started to experiment with those different types of shows and what lends itself best to the ways that people want to watch them,” Jarvey said.
Main image courtesy of WarnerMedia