While streaming services are increasingly pivoting back to a weekly release model, Netflix is unwavering in its support for the binge-release model. Despite there seeming to be some cracks in those foundations, thanks to Stranger Things 4 being split up, the streamer has confirmed the fifth and final season of the show will not switch to a weekly release schedule.
That’s according to Peter Friedlander (opens in new tab), head of scripted series for the U.S. and Cananda, during a panel moderated by Variety TV editor Michael Schneider. Friedlander said that Stranger Things fans have been watching the show one way for its entire run, and to change that on them would be “disappointing.”
Friedlander went on to add that not giving subscribers what they’ve been expecting, which is Stranger Things as a “seasonal experience,” would be an “abrupt change.” He also confirmed that Netflix would likely be sticking with the binge-release model for all scripted series going forward.
Netflix helped popularize the binge-release model, but in recent years the traditional weekly release schedule has regained a lot of ground for a variety of reasons. One of the most cited reasons is that by extending a show across several weeks, or over the course of a year, you improve your odds of people talking about it each week. The watercooler shows that almost force people to talk about shows with their friends and co-workers.
Binged shows might have some of this impact, as Stranger Things has shown, but it’s over a lot faster. The fact people are watching at different paces also limits the amount of discussion that can actually happen. A show like Lost, for instance, wouldn’t have worked with a binge model, given the intense speculation and theorising that surrounded the show.
You can't do that if people aren't all up to date, or if questions are raised and then answered a couple of hours later.
According to Friedlander this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Netflix is maintaining that the binge-release model is best for subscribers, since it gives them a choice on how to watch the service’s original content.
“We fundamentally believe that we want to give our members the choice in how they view,” the Netflix exec said. “And so giving them that option on these scripted series to watch as much as they want to watch when they watch it, is still fundamental to what we want to provide.”
Then again, when your options are watch everything as fast as possible or risk having it all spoiled, the concept of "choice" is something of an illusion. As I found out when Googling the actor who voiced Vecna in Stranger Things 4, and having the Volume's final twist spoiled in the search results. This was on release day too.
As for the split-season releases, Friedlander claims that this is about making sure Netflix can get its shows out sooner. He name dropped both Stranger Things and Ozark, whose fourth season was released in two parts, claiming it’s “really about servicing” Netflix subscribers “in more expedient ways.”
I’ve seen rumors online that the final two episodes of Stranger Things are still undergoing some final production flourishes. It’s not clear how true that is, but it would explain why Netflix split the series up where it did. Episodes 1 to 7 are complete, and Netflix released them as soon as it was physically able instead of waiting for the final touches to be applied to episodes 8 and 9.
Then again, a weekly release would give production the time it needs to finish off any remaining episodes, all without having to force an unnatural month-plus-long gap in the middle.
Friedlander’s final point is that Netflix episodes aren’t designed to be standalone, and are best-enjoyed as part of a multi-episode viewing experience. I’d disagree there, and have never really noticed any major difference between shows made for bingeing and ones that aren’t. But that’s just like, my opinion, man.
No matter how you look at it, what cracks appear to be forming or what the rest of the streaming industry is doing, Netflix is remaining steadfast. Don’t expect a weekly release model to come into play anytime soon. Not for scripted series, at any rate.