We’re now living in the era of streaming, which means we’re binge-watching shows more than ever. However, weekly output is still with us. How and why is that the case?
Radio, and later television, were revolutionary inventions not only for giving people the ability to hear and see things that were happening remotely from the comfort of their own home, but also for giving them the chance to be on the same page when it came to news and current events and the opportunity to bond over the programs they consumed.
But as time-shifting became an option – first with VCR tapes and later DVR giving us the ability to record multiple programs at a single time for later viewing – and ultimately lead to streaming services taking the small screen scene by storm, network television ratings have sunk to new lows year after year.
In the last decade, many predicted that we were drawing near the end of the traditional television model of carefully scheduled programming collectively experienced by a massive audience in favour of the “everything at our fingertips 24/7” model that had already been adopted into so many other facets of modern life.
One could hardly be blamed for thinking so.
More and more people are taking advantage of being able to plan their TV watching around their lives rather than the other way around, and cord-cutting has become increasingly commonplace.
There’s also the fact that when it comes to multi-episode seasons of streaming originals, the most commonly taken route is to release all episodes on the same day, at the same time.
This is very different from a season of network television, which typically airs one episode per week in the same timeslot for several months.
“Appointment television” is still with us, even with streaming
But as it turns out, they may not have been entirely correct. While these services are more popular than ever before, the desire to consume media as soon as it’s released hasn’t gone away, nor has the notion of “appointment television”.
During its eight-season run on HBO, Game of Thrones stood out as one of the only major shows on a streaming platform to be released in the weekly format typical of traditional television.
It’s likely no coincidence that it gained one of the biggest audiences of any streaming series in the 2010’s as the weekly format allowed it to become a popular topic of discussion online and of “watercooler talk” at workplaces the way shows airing weekly on traditional television have been for years.
What HBO recognised that other platforms such as Netflix didn’t was that a slow burn release has some pretty big benefits.
While it’s true that a full season dropped on a single day likely won’t disappear from its service anytime soon afterwards, the window of time it will have in the spotlight is significantly shorter without the anticipation of the next episode from week to week.
If a Netflix series premiere ends on a cliffhanger, fans can most likely have their burning questions answered within a matter of hours depending on how long it takes them to watch the entire season. But HBO took a page out of the traditional TV handbook by making viewers wait it out.
It’s easy to binge-watch an entire season of a Netflix Original and then largely forget about it until the next season comes a year or so later, but a weekly format makes sure a show stays in the minds its fans for much longer.
More time in the cultural consciousness allows a program to build an audience as the buzz spreads.
The release of a new episode each week can be marketed as an “event” for fans to participate in and discuss together, thus providing more opportunities for the shows to trend on social media and gain exposure.
Even YouTube has caught on to this by adding the ability for creators to “premiere” their video at a scheduled time with a chat box for fans to discuss the content in.
Just like on subscription-based streaming platforms, the video remains available on the creator’s channel after the premiere as per a normal upload, thus combining the excitement of being able to watch the debut of a new episode or video alongside others with the ability to easily rewatch or catch up on missed content after the fact.
Apple TV Plus And Disney Plus are learning from HBO and Game of Thrones
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Of course, that makes a release spread out over a longer period of time a more beneficial format from a business perspective, especially for a lot of the new streaming platforms that have popped up on the scene in the past couple of years.
Services like Apple TV+ and Disney+ aren’t producing nearly as much content as ones like Netflix and want to keep users subscribed as long as possible, so following Game of Thrones’s lead of releasing content on a weekly basis rather than full seasons all at once only makes sense.
But have viewers grown accustomed to getting immediate access to full seasons of their favourite shows been rendered impatient and less interested in choosing to subscribe to a streaming platform that opts for a longer rollout of content?
Admittedly, it seems most viewers are choosing services based on available content and seem open to either format of release.
However, perhaps surprisingly, many have discovered a preference for the slower model of release.
For a lot of people, it’s like getting to enjoy a slice of their favourite dessert once a week as opposed to being offered the whole thing all at once.
There’s excitement in being able to fully dive in and indulge, but it quickly leads to a feeling of emptiness soon afterwards.
Having time to digest between helpings (whether it be your favourite dessert or your favourite show) generally enriches the experience (and there’s also less pressure in finding time to watch a single episode of a program each week as opposed to an entire season’s worth of content while it’s still relevant in the pop culture zeitgeist).
The Mandalorian on Disney Plus is a great example of weekly “appointment television” on streaming
With Disney+’s The Mandalorian going the weekly episode route and even HBO Max announcing they’ll be releasing Zack Snyder’s Justice League as a four-part miniseries next year, it’s clear that the spread-out format of content release is becoming more and more the norm, at least when it comes to headlining content.
While streaming isn’t going away anytime soon and provides the invaluable ability for viewers to watch what they want, when they want, it looks like this hallmark of network TV that may have seemed like an inconvenience has actually proven to be a feature that will continue as part of the television experience, even as the method of delivery continues to evolve.
What do you make of this feature?
Are you a fan of appointment television or do you prefer binge-watching series?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.