Netflix, one of the best streaming services – and the most popular, to boot – is really struggling to get it right. Netflix’s subscriber woes are well documented, but to catch you up quickly, the big red streaming machine released an earnings report that showed its first fiscal quarter where it lost subscribers overall in addition to a decade.
And, for those paying attention, Netflix’s rumored solutions — an ad-supported Netflix and crackdowns on account sharing — have already been made public. Netflix has yet to embrace either, with the former only an option and the latter in limited testing in three Latin American markets, but it’s not hard to envision the one (if not both) of these two scenarios this year.
HBO Max, Peacock, Paramount Plus, and Hulu all have ad-supported tiers that cost less than their ad-free tiers, giving price-conscious customers a more palatable option. Netflix only plays around with “monetizing” account sharers by offering the ability to add additional households (its terms of service specify that you should only share accounts under the same roof), but it looks like the dawn stricter rules.
Why? Netflix believes that more than 31% of households (100 million “sharers” vs. 220 million “payers”) who watch Netflix are not the ones paying for it. Of course, you could also “split” the bill, but Netflix doesn’t care how the monthly tab is split.
That said, we’ve long wondered when Netflix will take another step. A decision that, like the crackdowns on account sharing, could irritate and upset fans. This decision ? Go back to the old way TV shows were published.
Netflix changed the game — but not permanently
According to people from Macmillan Dictionary Blog, the term “binge watching” entered the popular vernacular in 2012 – and Netflix has played a big part in that. 2012 is around the time Netflix became synonymous with streaming, five years after launching an online component for its already popular DVD rental service.
By this point, Netflix had acquired the rights to Breaking Bad from Sony and AMC, and executives saw a positive corollary between seasonal releases on Netflix and the debut of subsequent seasons on AMC. People were apparently catching up on seasons of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s meth-making adventures to catch up, and so it was only natural that binge-watching would become a trend.
Then, in 2013, Netflix released its own original shows, starting with supernatural series Hemlock Grove. He released these shows all at once, so we can binge watch them as well. At the time, that was a giant middle finger for the status quo, as weekly episodic TV shows were still the norm.
As we got more and more streaming services, some followed Netflix’s model. Enough, in fact, that it’s almost retro-chic that Disney Plus breaks with that pattern.
Disney Plus’ highest-profile debut series, Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian, bucked Netflix’s trend faster than a young Jedi can get knocked off a speeder-bike. The Mandalorian debuted with just one episode, and one with such a great ending – the Baby Yoda reveal – that fans had to come back next week. And with that, the industry began to return to the status quo.
The following services, HBO Max, Paramount Plus, and Apple TV Plus to name a few, aired shows a week at a time, often with multiple episodes at the start to help establish stories. And some of HBO Max’s biggest shows — Euphoria, for example — still air weekly.
In the years that have passed? Netflix took notice.
Netflix experimenting with release schedules isn’t so crazy
While many probably associate Netflix with full season drops, it doesn’t just release entire seasons of all of its shows and series. The Circle, Too Hot to Handle and Love Is Blind – three of Netflix’s most popular reality shows – are debuting in batches.
In 2022, Netflix is also applying this model to two of its biggest shows. Ozark Season 4 has the most drastic deviation, as its first seven episodes premiered on January 21st while the next seven will arrive on April 29th. It must have been something of a hit, as Netflix (in February) announced that Stranger Things season 4 is also split into two “volumes”. Volume 1 comes out May 27, and Volume 2 arrives July 1 — a much shorter wait.
All of this goes to show that Netflix definitely has an interest in making you wait a bit. Would Netflix take this to the logical extreme and drop Stranger Things Season 5 every week? Such a decision could prevent people from canceling the second they finish half the season and prevent them from holding on.
Or, it could have the opposite effect. Fans smart enough to know when a season finale is on the way might try to hold on for the finale – even if they could possibly screw things up somehow. Especially if you’re on Twitter.
Netflix has a reason to continue the frenzy
Netflix is at an interesting time. Not only are subscribers upset about its recent price hikes (which couldn’t be more poorly timed, as inflation hits everyone’s bottom line), but the rumor that Netflix may become more forceful in stopping the sharing of account is spreading. And if that happens, we bet Netflix shareholders might be the only ones happy about the news.
So at a time when Netflix’s big moves to keep people subscribed include one that might irritate (we doubt anyone would be irritated by an existing ad-supported level), would Netflix risk irritating its audience more?
Only time will tell, but it looks like the maestros behind binge-watching have something to gain by shaking things up. Especially when everyone is doing it.