Netflix is getting so much right, but there's one problem that seriously hurts their original content: they don't release episodes weekly. There's no doubt about it, since Netflix first got into making content (back in 2013, with House Of Cards), the streaming service has become a juggernaut for original programming. In 2016, Netflix released an estimated 126 original TV series or films; a massive number that outstrips that of traditional cable channels. Their original series span multiple genres, from hugely successful dramas to series that tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comedy, reality, animation, programming for children and more. They have gone from being a way to stream all your favorite classic shows and movies to become a major competitor for cable TV.
The Netflix original series and traditional TV does have one major difference, though; while most series on TV air week-to-week, a single episode at a time, Netflix prefers to release an entire season at once. Outside of the US, there are a few shows that are created in association with another network and released on the streaming service one episode at a time (Riverdale, for example), but those are the rarity.
In many ways, this fits with the Netflix model. Fans are able to binge-watch at their leisure and aren't stuck to a viewing schedule or specific air dates and times. However, there are some major issues with the decision to dump a full season on the service in one go, and Netflix may actually do better with some of their original series if they followed a more traditional approach.
Binge-Watching Isn't The Best Way To Watch TV (This Page)
The Binge-Watching Phenomenon
Netflix is known for being the birthplace of the binge-watch, and there are several advantages to giving viewers a full season up front. On its simplest level, binge-watching is fun. There's something about taking a day to curl up and watch an entire season in one go that is deeply appealing. Bingeing also means no cliffhangers, no desperate need to find out what happens next, and no risk of missing an episode because you have something else to do. Netflix bingeing is so popular that it has even started to inspire its own vocabulary. "Binge-watching" itself is recognized as having been popularized by the service, and is now joined by terms like "Binge-racing" (racing to finish a full season as fast as possible) and of course "Netflix and Chill".
Netflix is synonymous with the binge-watch, and it would be quite the shake-up for them to change the way that they release new series. However, Netflix is also known for change, and for staying ahead of the curve. They've come a long way from that original mail-order DVD company, and another big shakeup might be just the thing to keep them at the forefront of streaming. With so many other streaming companies now competing with Netflix (like Hulu, Amazon, and Disney), they will have to make sure that their original series generate more buzz than any other; and full-season releases aren't the way to do that.
How Bingeing Ruins Buzz
One of the biggest issues with releasing a full season at once is that it kills the buzz around a series. Netflix does an incredible job of getting people talking about their shows in the run-up to a new season, and within the first few days of release, but after that, the buzz drops off. Some of their most popular shows can garner a huge amount of social media buzz; 13 Reasons Why tops the list with 3,585,110 social volume within the week of the premiere, while Luke Cage managed 1,016,152 and Stranger Things reached 507,192 (as of April, according to Fizzology). While actual audience figures for Netflix are a closely held secret, figures on social media buzz show that the streaming service knows how to get people talking.
When it comes to keeping people talking, however, their method isn't quite as effective. The buzz around original series peaks quickly, within the first week of the show dropping, and then trails off quickly. Some have been able to buck the trend, but not for the best reasons: a huge part of the buzz around 13 Reasons Why and the way that that buzz continued for a long time, was the controversy surrounding the show. A spike in searches about suicide and calls to take the show off Netflix caused the hype to continue, not the plot or characters of the show itself. Others fade from public view for very straightforward reasons; when everyone has already seen it, there isn't a whole lot to talk about.
The bulk of media coverage and social media chatter on a series tends to be speculation. Reddit threads are filled with fan theories and discussions of what will happen next, casting news is followed by debate over who someone might play or how the will fit into the existing storyline, etc etc. Along with trailers for each upcoming episode (and episode titles, and synopses), this is all buzz that simply cannot exist for Netflix Original Series. It's impossible to speculate when all the episodes are available to watch. There are no trailers. Everything is revealed upfront, and that means less coverage - which may mean fewer viewers.