Marvel's Runaways TV series was sabotaged by Hulu's release schedule. The project was Marvel TV's first venture with the streaming platform, after releasing a handful of shows on ABC and a number of critically acclaimed dramas on Netflix. Runaways seemed to be the beginning of Marvel TV branching out in terms of genres, tone, and target audiences; the studio also has a superhero project set up at Freeform, Marvel's Cloak and Dagger, that will additionally aim to gear more younger than their Netflix and ABC fare.
However, Hulu has its own release structure that attempts to blend the binge-style of watching popularized by Netflix with the standard weekly episode of traditional TV networks. Hulu released the first three episodes of Runaways in late November 2017, then debuted one new episode every Tuesday until its finale this week. Similarly to Netflix, Hulu releases its new episodes at 12am PT, which unfortunately translates to 3am ET. Because of this release structure, it's been difficult to track or partake in any kind of conversation about Runaways on social media platforms, particularly Twitter.
Interestingly, Marvel's Runaways is organizing a live-tweet of the finale on Twitter that will take place roughly 18 hours after the episode actually dropped on Hulu. Many of the stars of Runaways will be live-tweeting from their personal accounts along with the show's official Twitter. This isn't exactly surprising in our age of television, during which the cast of shows - particularly those just starting out that are attempting to build and grow a devoted audience - often live-tweet new episodes of their series. But it is strange for a show that's released on a streaming platform, especially doing so more than half a day after the finale was actually released.
This live-tweeting event only showcases the lack of coordination in viewers watching the Runaways; those who have been watching new episodes weekly (instead of saving the entire season to binge once it's available in its entirety), have been live-tweeting on their own time, rather than as a collective. To an extent, we see this with Netflix shows as well. However, Netflix releases are more akin to weekend event viewing. Black Mirror, Stranger Things, and the latest Marvel shows may debut new seasons at 3am ET/12am PT on a Friday, but the conversation around Netflix's bigger shows is pervasive enough to last at least throughout the weekend.
Hulu may be able to capitalize on a similar, if smaller scale event-like nature by releasing the first three episodes of a show together, but the conversation gets lost once the streamer moves to weekly releases. Plus, with the episodes debuting at an odd hour, it's extremely unlikely the majority of viewers are tuning in at exactly the time of premiere. That's not to say Runaways hemorrhaged viewers throughout its first season run (like Netflix, Hulu doesn't release its exact viewership numbers). Hulu did renew Marvel's Runaways for season 2, so the streaming service undoubtedly has confidence in the show and its future on the platform.
However, the strange release schedule means the show has had a tough time generating buzz for each new episode. People may be tuning in, but they aren't talking about it - or googling it. The official live-tweet of the Runaways season 1 finale is the first truly coordinated live viewing of the series since it debuted in November. And while it may be a fantastic way to build buzz for the show, Runaways could have benefitted from that buzz earlier in its first season. Social media sites like Twitter are a strong, if at times tricky, way to grow a younger skewing show's audience, and it's not hard to believe that we would have seen more people talking about Runaways if Hulu and Marvel had utilized this strategy earlier - rather than just as the series is heading into an extended hiatus.
While it seems unlikely Hulu will change its release schedule - especially since it hasn't necessarily hurt other shows like Future Man and The Handmaid's Tale - the streamer and Marvel TV may need to think of other ways generate buzz and build the audience surrounding Runaways before season 2 premieres. It would be a shame if a show like Runaways, with such a strong series premiere and first season, wasn't able to fully find its audience.
Marvel's Runaways season 1 is available in its entirety on Hulu and the show will return for season 2.
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