Netflix and the Cultural Capital of Air Dates

Netflix and the Cultural Capital of Air Dates

Why the streaming service should retire its "all at once" release system.

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For your premise (very well thought out) to work, you'd need to assign a value to the peaks of cultural interest and then figure out a way to adjust for the difference in popularity of show. For example, Game of Thrones is likely more popular than Orange is the New Black so even if Netflix followed the same staggered release it still wouldn't have as high of peaks as Game of Thrones and if Game of Thrones released all at once it should have a higher spike than Orange is the New Black. So saying Game of Thrones gets X sized spike won't help.

So the question is how large the surface area under that spike is compared to how large it would be had the episodes been paced out. So it could be a LOT more chatter all at once that totals more than the sum of several small spikes or the difference could be negligible. Also, is spread out spikes somehow better than one large one (which one is more likely to generate Netflix subscriptions)?

Valid points. As someone who enjoys watching something all at once because of the narrative plus you get, i prefer the all at once approach. But again, you make valid points and maybe a weekly schedule is better? The "cultural capital" from anticipating a new episode could be very important.
Like Lightknight we have to consider the different approaches of the content deliverers. Classic TV places importance on ratings to sell Ad Time,
HBO and Netflix place importance because of subscriber numbers.
I am not sure how the HBO model works, since it is not available in Europe, but I guess their subscriptions last longer than a month?
In that case, HBO does not care about how they pace their episodes because subs are subs.
Netflix on the other hand does not mainly rely on the new shows but on the delivery of older content, also their sub-model is more short-term if I understand correctly.
Would House of Cards be split over two months, would that generate a longer average sub time (of people who sub because of HoC)?

My personal theory is, that the new shows are made as bait. Come for House of Cards, stay for years worth of movies and tv.
Since they attract the binge-watching demographic by nature, they pace their new shows according to the habits of those customers.
Now, apart from the question if Netflix could keep more sub and drop customers if they pace out their shows, could the "cultural capital" provide more lasting subs?
I don't really know. It is a loss for pop culture certainly....

Good points, Hiramas. The differences in business model in relation to the value of cultural capital is a great thing to discuss. Maybe one big show release generates more subscriptions than small episodic releases would so ongoing cultural capital may not be as valuable as explosive blasts of it. An episode may not convince you to subscribe whereas an entire show? That's more likely to work.

I feel like the in-between model that the author used was really just one sided. A compromise to be considered if ongoing cultural capital proves more valuable would be to release in clusters rather than all at one or one at a time. So the best compromise is a little of both rather than putting the "all at once" group at the back of the bus.

While I agree in general with this article, I feel that there is an important counterpoint - binge watching does fragment a viewing community, but that also means that the community learns how to deal with fragmentation. Contrast that to shows with a regular release schedule where I, as a late viewer, simply can't participate in the community. Even if I didn't care about spoilers, by the time I'm caught up and know what's going on the conversation has moved on.

I don't mind if they want to switch to a weekly staggered release to get the kinds of spikes you're talking about.

But for me, it just means waiting until it's all done and watching in one lump sum. I've been doing things in binge style since TV shows started coming out on DVD. And I truly prefer it that way in most cases.

There are only a few shows in the history of television that really creep into the cultural subconscious on any real penetrating level. Part of what made LOST fun was the speculation, but every show isn't going to benefit from that. Nor should they attempt to. Game of Thrones is a fun show, but I'm not "caught up" and I likely won't ever be. They're releasing in the staggered style and my gut reaction after binging season 1 is that it would be better to get the DVD sets as they come along (sorry, Blu-Ray sets) rather than trying to keep up just to be "part of the discussion".

I do get the value of being "part of the discussion" though. That's why I like to buy video games on release day more often than not. It's fun to talk about it while the phenomenon occurs. Of course I put way more value on video games than on serialized television, so naturally that's the conversation I want to be a part of.

So really, I'm fine with however Netflix releases its content. Either way though, my habits aren't likely to change. If the story is strong enough, I will wait and see it all at once because that's simply how I enjoy viewing content. You know, until the zombies come and we won't have time to care about Netflix because we have to form the nightly raiding parties.

Fun article, nice work. :)

Hey, guys. Thanks for reading and for all your thoughtful comments.

I think I should make clear that the charts I included and the spikes I point to aren't about ratings. As you say, Lightknight, the ratings for Game of Thrones are likely much higher than those for Orange is the New Black (though we really have no way of knowing without Netflix's numbers). Even if we did have all the hard data, its apples and oranges.

The point of the graphs, for me, is their shapes. The RELATIVE interest level and conversation has one peak and a drop off for Netflix shows, and a more sustained conversation with spikes at the episodes for shows released weekly.

Of course it's possible, though unlikely, that the lowest levels of House of Cards are higher than the greatest peaks of the Walking Dead, but again that's not what I'm trying to explore. I'm looking at the broader cultural picture as a way to point back to how we experience television collectively and as individuals. The way I see it, the all at once release stymies that experience.

heWizard:
Hey, guys. Thanks for reading and for all your thoughtful comments.

I think I should make clear that the charts I included and the spikes I point to aren't about ratings. As you say, Lightknight, the ratings for Game of Thrones are likely much higher than those for Orange is the New Black (though we really have no way of knowing without Netflix's numbers). Even if we did have all the hard data, its apples and oranges.

The point of the graphs, for me, is their shapes. The RELATIVE interest level and conversation has one peak and a drop off for Netflix shows, and a more sustained conversation with spikes at the episodes for shows released weekly.

Of course it's possible, though unlikely, that the lowest levels of House of Cards are higher than the greatest peaks of the Walking Dead, but again that's not what I'm trying to explore. I'm looking at the broader cultural picture as a way to point back to how we experience television collectively and as individuals. The way I see it, the all at once release stymies that experience.

Thank you for the response and for the article. This is certainly an interesting release model to think about.

The thing about the possible concerns around spoilers isn't something that is resolved by ongoing episodic series either. It still seems to be a problem regardless (for example, I'm two episodes behind in game of thrones).

I can't say that I, as a viewer, have ever been harmed by having all the episodes available at once besides losing a bit of sleep. I have, however, been anxious while waiting for a new episode to appear.

Valid points, but a pretty dumb article nonetheless. Honestly, your article assumes that everyone is available to watch 1 episode a week of every show. I havent seen house of cars yet. Any season. I plan to, but I havent set a date. As such I have actively avoided ALL spoilers of it. Its a choice. I choose to watch other stuff now, House of Cards later. Whats the difference between someone not being able to watch the weekly episode, and someone not having binge-watched as much as the next guy?

Releasing a show once a week will in many cases limit the shows storytelling. Maybe they have small "last week on whatever" segments filling it up. Maybe the show will be limited in scenes because it might have to fit a certain timespan (unlike online releases). I honestly dont see a single good thing about weekly releases. Sure, the social media can buzz about this and that...but who the hell cares? I might be a special case since I dont have twitter and I'm almost never on facebook. I dont need to go online to write and omg about this thing and that. If I want my friends to know my opinion on something I'll tell them when we're TALKING. If the topic is barred because someone havent seen that episode/season yet...well thank god I have friends that can talk about something else than the latest episode of whatever.

tzimize, I'm afraid you've missed the point.

I'm not saying that you MUST watch episodes weekly -- I'm saying it's better for everyone if they're released that way. That the option EXIST. I binge-watch shows. I watch old shows, like The West Wing, that almost no one is actively watching or discussing. It doesn't make them invalid as television shows. As soon as you watch House of Cards, you will be able to discuss and have an opinion on House of Cards.

My point is that, given the fact that everyone is watching at their own pace, as you're suggesting, a weekly release schedule allows for a larger cultural conversation, rather than ensuring that our conversations are nonexistent or fragmented. And to be clear, the internet and social media is only an example. Common ways people communicate about art and culture. You don't have to be on facebook to be a part of it, not did I suggest it. TALKING, as you put it, is the idea, regardless of the medium.

Lightknight, as a friend of mine recently put it, the suspense and anticipation makes the release that much better. And yes, he was talking about television.

I'll offer one more example. Take Harry Potter (the books). Could a kid read them all now and love them with every ounce of his being? Definitely. And in doing so he would instantly be tapped into the the cultural space Harry Potter occupies. The rest of the fanbase would be there waiting for him with open arms. But, given the choice, I wouldn't trade a blind binge read now for the experience of reading each book as it came out. Being a part of the groundswell, anticipating each new phase of the universe (books, movies, theme parks), trading theories, etc. In fact, I would argue that that groundswell -- the fervor of the fans BETWEEN books -- is equally responsible for the Harry Potter phenomenon as the books themselves.

I'll be honest. I didn't see the value of "previously on" segments back in the olden days, before Netflix, DVD, and iTunes. A lot of shows didn't have them even then, and so I don't think Netflix is particularly snubbing non-bingers by not including a "previously on" deal. If the shows were coming out weekly, I still wouldn't care.

Now, your mileage may vary on the use of them, but I still think it's a stretch to assign any meaning to it.

But using the Harry Potter example, I'd feel a little insulted if even the longest of the books included a "previously in Harry Potter" section.

As for the rest...I must confess, I don't get it. One thing giving up cable has taught me is that I can wait. Since my brother got me into Game of Thrones I've been buying the set when they first release, without issue or dearth of people to discuss it with. I watch most "new" releases a year or two later n Netflix at my pace, be it an episode a week or an all-nighter. I have trouble seeing any extra value or excitement in doing it week by week.

But I also accept that my experience may not be typical. I'm also not horribly fussed about spoilers, which I know isn't typical. I mean, I don't go out of my way to read them, but it's hard for me to care. I don't think it was much a different experience to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender completely unspoiled than it was to know the plot points of Harry Potter going in.

But again, this is probably just me.

Hey Zachary.

Just to be clear, this is what I said about the "previously on" bits:

"Dropping redundant or plot-telegraphing "Previously On" and "Next Time On" stingers are welcome innovations to modern TV -- not being able to follow a plot because you take a couple weeks off between episodes is not."

So it sounds like we agree.

I liked GoT but was done reading the books before season 2 started and haven't been interested in the show since.

With the walking dead I wait for them to pop up on Netflix. Can't be bothered to wait for episodes.

The only time I find myself ever watching "tv" is in hotel rooms.

That said. I guess ultimately your point is there are more "social" types who want to talk about episodes and have an "experience". I guess in that case the weekly episodes is a nice option. I am sure Netflix can come up with ways to integrate social conversations somehow. I just hope that, when it comes, I get to turn off that feature :)

He mentions HoC and OistNB, but not fDtD, a netflix original released weekly.

Personally I binge watch; I waited till finale day to watch the last season of Breaking Bad, haven't touched GoT yet (waiting to hear reception of post red wedding events from people who care)

Water cooler discussion about the only entertaining thing that was on last night is the reason people THINK they liked LOST

I had no idea Netflix was even doing this. I guess from an organizational standpoint it makes sense, since all their other shows are dumped a full season at a time as well (I think). At least for now. Ideally, we'll eventually reach a point where shows are released on Netflix the day, or at least the week, after they aired on TV, and then the original shows will be the odd ones out unless they've changed their policy by then.

And it's not like airdate restrictions are the only reason why TV shows are be released one episode at a time; the so-called episodic model has been used by nearly every medium at one point or another. Comic books, Flash cartoon series, video games, even novels were once released as serials before being compiled into single volumes. Sometimes it just makes more sense to release what you have when you have it rather than making people wait until you're done.

heWizard:
Lightknight, as a friend of mine recently put it, the suspense and anticipation makes the release that much better. And yes, he was talking about television.

I'll offer one more example. Take Harry Potter (the books). Could a kid read them all now and love them with every ounce of his being? Definitely. And in doing so he would instantly be tapped into the the cultural space Harry Potter occupies. The rest of the fanbase would be there waiting for him with open arms. But, given the choice, I wouldn't trade a blind binge read now for the experience of reading each book as it came out. Being a part of the groundswell, anticipating each new phase of the universe (books, movies, theme parks), trading theories, etc. In fact, I would argue that that groundswell -- the fervor of the fans BETWEEN books -- is equally responsible for the Harry Potter phenomenon as the books themselves.

I believe this may be a philosophical difference. Suspense within a show that is designed by the writers makes a show great, not suspense brought on by waiting for a week. Especially if that ends up being a throw away episode that nearly every show seems to have. A rose's scent is not made sweeter by waiting for it. It is either sweet or it isn't. The relief of getting the opportunity to find out is in no way better than the satisfaction of knowing you can view it at any moment.

But, like I said, this can be a difference of opinion here. If you really think that waiting for a week for the end of breaking bad made the show better then you are at extreme odds with my view that it would have been every bit as good if I could have viewed it a day after the first one. In any event, even though I agree that binging degrades the quality of the show when done too much, I think having control over when we view it is more important than someone else controlling when we get to watch it.

I prefer watching my shows in bulk. After binge watching the entire Breaking bad series, i can hardly tolerate watching a show weekly. With great shows, I always end up wanting more and waiting an entire week is just too annoying. Now i tend to wait out entire seasons and catch up when I want to. Either by on demand, borrowing a friend's dvd/bluray, or going online (netflix hulu etc). Any method that removes commercials is most superb. Extremely irritating are on demand channels that disable fast forward, total BS. On-Demand loses its value when they don't allow fast forwarding, and its only certain channels that do it. They sometimes even add more commercials than you would normally see when watching the show live (that's when I stop watching altogether).

In my opinion, Netflix is outstanding for its bulk delivery of their shows and lack of commercials.

I don't mind weekly viewing sometimes, Game of Thrones for example is a solid hour long but at times feels like it was only 30 min so i'm left wanting.

heWizard:
tzimize, I'm afraid you've missed the point.

I'm not saying that you MUST watch episodes weekly -- I'm saying it's better for everyone if they're released that way. That the option EXIST. I binge-watch shows. I watch old shows, like The West Wing, that almost no one is actively watching or discussing. It doesn't make them invalid as television shows. As soon as you watch House of Cards, you will be able to discuss and have an opinion on House of Cards.

My point is that, given the fact that everyone is watching at their own pace, as you're suggesting, a weekly release schedule allows for a larger cultural conversation, rather than ensuring that our conversations are nonexistent or fragmented. And to be clear, the internet and social media is only an example. Common ways people communicate about art and culture. You don't have to be on facebook to be a part of it, not did I suggest it. TALKING, as you put it, is the idea, regardless of the medium.

Lightknight, as a friend of mine recently put it, the suspense and anticipation makes the release that much better. And yes, he was talking about television.

I'll offer one more example. Take Harry Potter (the books). Could a kid read them all now and love them with every ounce of his being? Definitely. And in doing so he would instantly be tapped into the the cultural space Harry Potter occupies. The rest of the fanbase would be there waiting for him with open arms. But, given the choice, I wouldn't trade a blind binge read now for the experience of reading each book as it came out. Being a part of the groundswell, anticipating each new phase of the universe (books, movies, theme parks), trading theories, etc. In fact, I would argue that that groundswell -- the fervor of the fans BETWEEN books -- is equally responsible for the Harry Potter phenomenon as the books themselves.

The problem with your thesis is that it makes an absolute assertion; "weekly releases are better for viewers" which rests on a faulty premise, that all viewers necessarily gain something of value from "being part of the groundswell".

Plenty of people either A; don't give a hoot what other people have to say about a show, and gain all the value they want from simply watching it, or B; don't have any interest in or opportunity to watch the same shows as colleagues or friends and so cannot gain value from any discussion in those circles, or C; prefer to discuss shows in the longer-form expressions of online fandom like forums, where how far you've progressed through a particular show is an irrelevance.

I'm a bit of A and a bit of C, so where is the value for me in having my watching experience - the primary source of any value I gain from a show - dictated to me and limited?

Further, I'd contend that this "groundswell", this "cultural conversation" that is apparently so dependent on rigid adherence to a release schedule, is inherently hollow. How "fashionable" it is to watch and discuss a show has no impact on that show's(or book, or movie series etc) quality, or its merit as a work of storytelling. If a show(or book, or movie series etc) cannot sustain a fandom without the artificial support of "water cooler culture", it likely doesn't deserve one in the first place.

When people say "I prefer to 'binge-watch'", you respond by saying they still can, they just have to wait their turn until the cool kids are done with a show. I'd say that if you want to confine your viewing to a schedule, feel free to do so, hell you could create a whole fandom of people who like to watch shows according to a schedule and arrange to do so as a group, but you don't get to mandate that I have to be part of it.

Put it this way; I invent a device that amounts to the Replicator from Star Trek - unlimited reproduction of any physical object at zero cost. Would you think it justifiable for someone to come along and say "Well that's all very nice, the eradication of poverty and hunger and all those things, but I believe in the value of work dagnabbit, and I think you'll cheapen the experience of living our lives if people can get anything for free, so I think we should artificially restrict people's access to this new technology and enforce a monetary economy despite it being totally unnecessary. Sure I could just impose the restrictions I favour on myself and anyone else who thinks as I do could do the same, but I think everyone should have to follow my example because reasons."? Same logic.

 

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