Cable Networks Test Binge-Viewing Release Strategies

To release or to not release full seasons of scripted show for binge viewing was a question several cable network and OTT service executives wrestled with recently, coming to differing opinions.

OTT service Netflix, which accelerated the phenomenon of launching a full season of a series’ episodes at one time with the debut of Emmy-nominated shows House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, is fully committed to continuing to allow viewers to binge its shows.

Competitor Amazon is also binge-releasing its original series, albeit reluctantly, according to the company’s director, Roy Price. He told AdWeek that he worries about losing the “pleasurable anticipation” of the next episode when you offer everything all at once, but concedess that viewers are used to getting all episodes of Transparent and other Amazon shows when they debut on Amazon Prime.

And viewers love to binge. More than 30% of viewers surveyed in a recent Tivo Spring 2015 Binge Viewing Survey said they deliberately put off watching an entire season of a show until they can watch the whole season at once, a slight increase from the 2014 survey.

In addition, 39% said some shows are better watched back-to-back, according to the survey.

Yet OTT service Hulu still believes in building viewership for a series on a week-to-week basis and will not consider releasing entire seasons of its original shows. Hulu content chief Craig Erwich said during the recent Television Critics Association tour that the service wants to preserve the “water cooler” experience that comes with watching shows on the traditional weekly TV schedule.

Even cable networks are getting in on the act. Starz recently said it will test the binge-viewing phenomena this fall when it launches all new episodes from the final season of drama series Da Vinci’s Demons and the first season of dance-themed series Flesh & Bone on its Starz Play TV Everywhere service prior to each show’s debut on the Starz pay TV service.

Turner Broadcasting is taking a slightly different tack. It will release the first four episodes of TNT's new drama Public Morals the day after the series premieres on the network Aug. 25.

For the foreseeable future, content distribution companies will continue to go back and forth over the binge-releasing strategy as they continue testing the best ways to engage viewers in an ever-evolving home entertainment marketplace.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.