Season 8 of Game of Thrones debuted on April 14, 2019, and for the next six weeks, HBO enjoyed what might easily be called “Game Of Thrones Spring.”
As in it was hard to look at any news or entertainment website or social media platform and not see references to the show—recaps, predictions, jokes, GIFs.
It was a six week long commercial for AT&T’s prize possession, during which time HBO wisely capitalized on the fact that millions of people were all tuning in to watch the show at 9PM on Sunday nights, something that rarely happens these days outside of live events like the Super Bowl.
What HBO did was to run promos for its upcoming series during that time. Chernobyl, Big Little Lies, Succession and the Deadwood movie all got lots of love and lots of face time with millions of GoT fans, who now have a reason that isn’t named Westworld to still feel good about HBO.
(NB: While there have been a spate of mainstream media articles this week based on yet another specious “study” predicting that viewers will soon abandon HBO in droves, that study reflects numbers for HBO Now, whose 7 million subscribers only make up 14% of the network’s 50 million subscribers. If you are one of the 43 million people who subscribe to HBO via your MVPD, dumping the service is not really an easy option.)
When Bingeing Was Fun
While the ability to binge watch a series was one of the initial attractions of Netflix for most viewers, Netflix first round of original series often felt like special occasions—there weren’t that many of them, and taking a weekend to do nothing but watch the latest season of Orange Is The New Black or House of Cards was sort of fun in that lots of other people were doing it too, and it was only a once or twice a year thing, not a once or twice a week thing.
But now that Netflix is releasing dozens (if not hundreds) of new series, keeping up with them is getting exponentially tougher and the experience feels more like running a marathon and less like just kicking back and watching TV.
More than that, the short release window Netflix has means that it’s easy to miss the release of a show’s latest season, even a show you actively like: you were on vacation, busy with work, entertaining guests and boom! it just passes you by.
That’s unlikely to happen with weekly releases, which also don’t have the nasty habit of making you feel like you’ve got an unread stack of New Yorker magazines on your bedside table, none of which you are ever going to have enough time to plow through.
On the other hand, Netflix seems to be looking at its original series as a long-term investment rather than a short-term one, betting on viewers finding the shows years after they aired, rather than the week they launched. At which point the cadence in which the series was released will be irrelevant.
The Power Of Promotion
As “Game Of Thrones Spring” has shown us, however, the trade off between releasing every episode at once and releasing every them week is the power to promote all the other offerings in your lineup.
That power is going to take on a world of importance post-Flixcopalypse, as the seven or eight different Flixes all compete to get viewers to tune into their new shows, and—more important—to get them to subscribe and stay subscribed, which is largely going to be based on viewers’ understanding of what shows are up next
That’s when the advantage of having a current “must see” series will become even more of an advantage—because it will give the Flix in question the ability to promote all its new shows and (quite likely) its new bundle offerings (“Sign up for a year contract today and save 20% while you watch all these great upcoming shows!!!”)
Which is not to say that Netflix can’t do this on its all-at-once release schedule—there’s no law against promoting new Netflix series before each episode of the new season of Stranger Things. It’s just that there will be no “Stranger Things Summer.” People will watch Stranger Things in a weekend. A week or two at most. Then the buzz will move on to something else.
The Winner Takes All Fallacy
Every day there seems to be a new ridiculous article about how someone (usually Disney) is going to be the “Netflix killer.”
As if it were a winner-take-all contest.
As if viewers only had bandwidth to subscribe to a single SVOD service.
As if all of these services were not complementary to each other in many ways.
What we will actually see in Flixland is a massive amount of churn, as viewers stick to somewhere between three to five Flixes at a time and churn between them so that they can watch the whatever it is they want to watch at the moment.
And they’ll continue churning until the The Great Rebundling kicks in and starts locking them into year-long contracts.
So Netflix’s policy of releasing all episodes of most of its shows at once isn’t going to kill them. (Or Amazon, which also drops all episodes at once. Or Apple, which is rumored to be going that route too.)
But it will make it harder for them to promote their new shows. It removes a very powerful tool from their arsenal and forces them to rely on their algorithm and online promotions and emails and billboards and the like.
And while their algorithm is pretty damn powerful, it’s also likely going to get less effective at a time when people dip into and out of the service specifically to watch Stranger Things or the Fyre documentary or even reruns of The Simpsons —shows they specifically logged into Netflix to watch, and that means they’re not sticking around to graze through the main menu to see what else is on once they’re done watching.
There’s also “Alexa, show me Stranger Things!” which avoids the home page altogether.
Again, not fatal, but it makes life harder for Netflix’s promotions team, gives an upper hand to Flixes with weekly release schedules, who, with the right programming, can create their own “Game Of Thrones Spring.”
And in the war over viewers that’s fast coming, every advantage helps.