Binge-watching was a thing before House of Cards debuted on Netflix back in 2013, but the practice of watching a slew of episodes all in one sitting largely came from archival video-on-demand and before that, buying seasons of a show on DVD. What House of Cards did differently at the time was release a full season of NEW premium video content simultaneously.
Most digital series would follow suit soon after, as binge-watching became the standard for streaming content on platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. In recent years, though, the trend has turned back the other way.
While releasing every episode at once makes for a large initial hype cycle, it also limits how long the attention’s on a given property to the release and maybe week or two later. As “binge-worthy” became a label to strive for, it also became a way to quickly forget about certain programs if you didn’t catch them right away. The next binge-worthy show/season was always right around the corner, so why not just catch up when you feel like it? The shows were still great. But the concept of appointment television was falling by the wayside on streaming, even if it was surviving on linear TV.
Back in August, Disney announced that Disney+ shows would drop weekly episodes, rather than simultaneously add an entire season to the video library. Disney-owned Hulu started trying this out a couple years ago with shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, as an attempt to look more like linear TV and own a larger swath of time with releases, and platforms like Facebook Watch have been doing the same since its inception too. And now, Disney+ is about to do the same, except this time with a roster of properties that already own the zeitgeist — and will now get to do so even more by extending relevance beyond typical show and movie promotion lifecycles and into their own year-round cottage industries.
Obviously this applies more to some brands than others, but the weekly airings are a product of the most in-demand shows that will appear on the service — namely what’s attached to Star Wars and Marvel (and potentially Pixar as well). For the former two, and especially Marvel, movie release cycles already drive a ton of online conversation the likes of which prop up entire digital publishing companies. Now with shows dropping weekly in between those films (and in at least Marvel’s case, weaving narratives into those films), there will be a never-ending promotion cycle that Disney doesn’t even need to spend against beyond the cost of the episode.
According to video measurement company Tubular Labs, there are hundreds of millions of Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics-related video views across platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube every month (including over 450 million in August 2019). And that’s with just 23 movies so far and some conversation around the upcoming “Black Widow” film in May 2020. Publishers like Emergency Awesome, Marvel Facts, QuirkyByte, CBR, Looper, IGN and more have all raked in over 10 million views around Marvel-related videos in the last 90 days alone. The potential for where those view counts grow to with weekly content around shows like Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, Hawkeye and others seems relatively endless when you consider how much time social video channels already dedicate to these properties with just full-length films and trailers.
The same could be said for Star Wars with even fewer movies and characters at their disposal. Tubular data shows over 1.5 billion social video views in the last 90 days alone — and that’s without a movie coming out since May 2018 ( the critically panned “Solo: A Star Wars Story”). Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will arrive in theaters this December, and that’s generated plenty of excitement and will through the end of the year. But once that movie wraps, that’s it for the storyline and characters fans have known for decades… on the big-screen, that is.
On Disney+, they’ll live on with shows like The Mandalorian, an Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off, Cassion Andor series, Clone Wars series and a future show from the creators of Game of Thrones. Released like films with a once-per-year format, there’s a chance it just becomes “another Star Wars release.” With weekly episodes, the intrigue of what happens next that’s long guided Star Wars fandom (along with plenty of other factors) stays alive for weeks and months on end through shows, until the next show or movie. And with social video talking up every detail around the narratives on screen, it’s how Disney+ will tighten its grip even further on the greater culture conversation.
Disney+ will also have plenty of VOD content at the ready on launch, between archival shows and movies, so really, the weekly releases also give you plenty of time to explore the service in between, too. No, it may not work for viewers of absolutely EVERY show, but even if the strategy’s most effective with Star Wars and Marvel properties, that’s still a large chunk of subscribers to Disney+ and important fan bases to have satiated on a weekly basis.
Whether Disney+ becomes appointment television or not, it’ll be important television to dedicated fans. And that, by itself, is probably enough to guide it to success in the short- and long-term.