Once The Mandalorian was announced, the question quickly became how Disney+ was going to release episodes of the show’s first season.
Were they going to tread the well-worn road of Netflix and Amazon and release all episodes of the season at once? Or were they going to take the road of newer streaming channels such as CBS All Access and Apple TV and release The Mandolorian’s episodes on a week to week basis?
As we all know by now, they chose the latter and, with it, any chance of me ever being a subscriber, at least on any sort of consistent basis as I subscribe to Netflix.
Some media outlets praised the decision to release episodes weekly as a boon to viewers and the marketing of the show as it would keep everyone talking about The Mandolorian week in and week out:
Moreover, Disney’s decision to release a new episode of The Mandalorian every week has undoubtedly helped keep the show top of mind. In fact, this approach strikes just the right balance between the accessibility of streaming and the water-cooler element of traditional weekly broadcasts. In today’s day and age, the latter happens all too rarely.
I totally disagree with this take, and there are three main reasons why:
1. An overstated water cooler effect
The idea that weekly episode releases help maintain the popularity of a show by keeping it in the minds of viewers via social media and small talk at work is wildly overblown.
While it’s true a show airing weekly will enjoy some level of sustained chatter each time an episode airs, it doesn’t mean a show that’s released all at once can’t enjoy a level of sustained interest over time as well.
A look at the popularity of Disney’s The Mandolorian vs. Netflix’s The Witcher showed that while The Witcher was at his most popular when it was released, it maintained a sustained level of popularity as the weeks passed and word of mouth brought more viewers to the show.
Sure, The Mandolorian experienced weekly spikes in popularity, but it wasn’t like The Witcher was just completely forgotten about after its initial release.
The difference between the two strategies is pretty clear. The Mandalorian has spikes every Friday when it’s (usually) released, and has sustained interest over that period of time, with a big jump for the grand finale.
And yet The Witcher seems to be the more popular program overall with a massive surge on its initial weekend, but even its trail-off since its debut on December 20 still puts it above The Mandalorian on its best day.
Places like Reddit, forums, and fan pages keep fans highly engaged with their favorite shows as they wait for a new season to be released.
The “water cooler” doesn’t have to a physical one, and it can — and often is — a virtual one. Fans of a show will discuss that show often and with whoever will listen whether the show is released weekly or all at once.
2. It’s about economics, not user experience
The main problem with the idea of weekly episodes being better than a single release is that the decision to do so has nothing to do with user experience and everything to do with economics.
Disney, Apple, CBS, and the like are trying to prevent churn and keep subscribes around for as long as possible. It’s no secret that users will subscribe to Netflix or other streaming services just long enough to watch whatever series or movies their interested in just to unsubscribe until the new season of the series is released again.
By releasing episodes weekly, they are ensuring subscribers remain subscribers for at least the duration of the series. Being able to report the number of subscribers as well the recurring revenue that comes from them looks good on those quarterly financial reports.
There is also the hope that people will be more inclined to stick around and see what else a streaming service has to offer, once their series of choice has finished airing. That hope drastically underestimates how much Netflix and Amazon have changed the way we view television and movies.
There are already reports that people are unsubscribing from Disney+ now that The Mandolorian is over. And, for those who were patient, now is the time to subscribe to DIsney+ so they can binge-watch The Mandolorian only to unsubscribe once they finish the series.
While I’m focusing on DIsney+ and The Mandolorian, the same can be said for Apple TV and CBS All Access and their flagship shows.
3. Control over the viewing experience
What streaming has provided, more than anything else is control over the viewing experience. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m not interested in anyone dictating to me how I should view a series I want to watch.
I’ve been spoiled by Netflix and Prime Video with the control they allow me and how I choose to engage with the content I watch.
Once a series is released, I can determine the when, where, and how I want to watch it. I’m not forced to wait for a certain time or place or wait for it to be available on-demand before I can view it. I don’t have to sit through commercials or get told I can’t fast forward through a series.
If I wanted a network to control my viewing experience, I’d watch network TV or subscribe to cable.
With an estimated 24 million subscribers since its November launch, Disney+ is hardly in need of my subscription dollars.
However, as more and more streaming networks launch and the streaming wars heat up, consumers are going to get much more selective with how they choose to spend their subscription dollars.
For me, the easiest way to eliminate a potential streaming service isn’t with their available catalog, but how much control I have over my viewing experience. Will I have control over how I view the content I’m paying to access, or will the company dictate how I view their content?
If streaming companies want my money, it would need to be the former and not the latter, and no amount of exclusive content will change my mind.
I’m sure I’m not the only potential customer who feels that way. Netflix has set the standard, and you can’t put that genie back in the box.