This used to be a stupid question because when we all only watched “linear television” the only choice was to watch an episode a week because that’s how a series was broadcast. From X-factor to Life on Mars & Ashes to Ashes, to Game of Thrones to The Apprentice—a series was broadcast weekly and each episode was, to some extent, a shared experience, not just within your household, but wider too among friends, colleagues and once Twitter became a thing with strangers on the internet too. And a series finale became must-see, event television—a shared national experience if the series had become popular enough.
But Netflix changed all that. Or, at least, we thought they did.
Netflix drops a whole series onto its streaming service in one go. This is good in the sense that you don’t have to wait for a week to catch the next episode, you can binge-watch the whole series in a single sitting. And other streaming services like Amazon Prime Video do the same with their original content. And recently both the BBC and ITV have dropped a whole series onto their streaming platforms (Player for BBC, but interesting BritBox for ITV rather than the ITV hub) even when they are broadcasting the series weekly on their linear channels. The BBC has done it with This is Going to Hurt for example.
But does the series in question suffer a little as a result?
With the episode-a-week format, you have a chance to discuss what has happened and what you think will happen for a whole week before you find out what does happen. There’s a sense of anticipation as you get past day four and there’re only three days left until the next episode. And even though in the modern era, it’s unlikely that millions of people are watching the latest episode at the same time the way they were forced to do so before streaming and catch-up services, you can still head to the water cooler at work the next day and not have to start the conversation with “so, which episode are you up to now?”
That, perhaps, is why Disney has gone down the episode-a-week route for their Marvel & Star Wars branded series on Disney+. From The Mandalorian to Hawkeye all of the series so far have been one episode a week and I honestly think they’ve been stronger for it.
So is one model better than the other? I don’t know. Probably not. Both models have their merits and their flaws. But it’s nice that not every streaming service is doing the same thing. There’s already so much content to choose from so it’s nice that some new content is spread out and there’s still a glut of new content to fill the gaps in-between.
It’s certainly a different world than when I was growing up and as consumers, we’ve never been so spoiled for choice and blessed with so much good content to enjoy.
Long may it continue.