Ad-supported platforms are finding new release tactics to keep viewers coming back for more
Before Netflix helped usher in the era of binge-watching, TV viewers were accustomed to waiting a week before the next installment of their favorite show. Think Sex in the City, Grey’s Anatomy, or go back further to the Must-See TV concept of Thursday night primetime viewing of the 1980s and 1990s. Well, everything old is new again — even on streaming channels.
Signals from streaming platforms and consumers suggest bingeing may be waning, and that the weekly release schedule for new content is now on the rise, according to industry analysts. It’s a trend that’s been tracked over the last year. With the surge in premium content, streaming channels are competing to keep viewers engaged on their platforms over the long term. For platforms that rely more heavily on ads, that longevity is even more critical, Ross Benes, an analyst for eMarketer, tells The Current. “It allows them to continue the buzz for a new show, instead of getting it all at once. And it allows advertisers to extend a campaign if they’re really focused on advertising against that new show,” he says.
Streaming platforms are experimenting with different release tactics to drive demand. A case in point is the Hulu Original Only Murders in the Building, a comedy-mystery starring Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez. Hulu dropped the first three episodes on August 31, with subsequent episodes on a weekly release schedule. Likewise, NBCU is reverting to a weekly release cadence for its Peacock Originals such as Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney, and HBO Max continue to experiment with weekly releases. Recent highlights are HBO Max’s The White Lotus, which has been tagged the summer’s buzziest show, and Apple’s Ted Lasso, which picked up a string of gongs at last week’s Emmy awards show. "[T]he release strategy plays into the communal feeling of consumers talking about it and reveling in it as it unfolds,” Sarah Lyons, EVP of product experience at WarnerMedia and HBO Max, said in an interview on the StreamTV show over the summer.
Building that shared cultural experience around a show is critical for platforms who want to extend the life of their premium content, Arianne Kader-Ku, the country head of Viu in the Philippines, tells The Current. Even more so in a region where 100 million viewers use ad-supported over-the-top (OTT) platforms. “Our goal is to continue to engage our viewers over the course of time because ultimately we’re fighting for attention,” she says. “If you’re creating a strategy that promotes a short-attention span where you’re bunching all the episodes in one weekend where everyone can binge it, people talk about it for a week and then they’re onto the next thing.”
Viu, which has the largest catalog of Korean content and produces original shows, has a fiercely loyal fan base. As The Current has reported, Viu uploads K-dramas on a daily and weekly cadence, soon after they’ve been broadcast in South Korea, which locks in viewership at very specific times — even at 3AM. “We work closely with our brand partners, showcasing their ads on the platform and daily engagement viewership supports that partnership,” says Kader-Cu.
Call it the anti-binge effect, which is distinct from the Netflix model of dropping the entire season in one go. That tactic has proved successful for Netflix, which uses time-spent on its platform as a proxy for how likely someone is to cancel their subscription, according to Benes. But that business model isn’t sustainable for an ad-funded platform like Viu, says Kader-Cu, who notes that creating original content is expensive.
Kader-Cu points out that a brand’s engagement success is largely tied to the success of that content, depending on the brand objectives which are typically reach and awareness. “Awareness on our platform is so strong considering the fact that a viewer could watch a hundred episodes of one show (airing daily), and the ad is on every single one of those" — even though it’s frequency-capped — “which drives a lot of engagement on a particular show,” she adds.
Moreover, Viu manages the content and brand alignment upstream, as the platform has increasingly deep insights into its (predominantly-female) audience. This creates a halo effect around the release and longevity of popular shows. “It’s the passionate community that spreads the information about certain shows, creating content around this content, such as memes and social media forums.” she says. “We call this the viewniverse.”
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