Could "Netflix and chill" become "Netflix and see you next Wednesday"? According to new reports, Netflix is thinking the unthinkable and considering bringing an end to its binge-watching release strategy.
Netflix is the only major streaming service with a "release everything at once" strategy, and it's apparently considering changing that to reduce subscriber churn and freeloading: if a series is being released weekly, you can't binge it in one go and kill your subscription again.
I know what you're thinking. What next? Going back to sending DVDs through the post? But the move isn't as much of a throwback as it sounds. Netflix apparently intends to keep the binge-watch option available once every episode has aired.
Well, that's according to a new profile of Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings in Puck, which says that Hastings didn't want an end to all-at-once releasing "[but] now, it appears, he does".
Would Netflix be better off without bingeing?
According to entertainment industry legend Bob Lefsetz, it wouldn't. "This is how the music business got in trouble, by ignoring its customers in search of an ever-growing bottom line," he writes in his newsletter. He's got a point. You've heard endless tales of Netflix cancelling great new shows because they don't produce significant numbers out of the gate, with even the brilliant The Sandman series far from certain to get a second airing. And moving to weekly episodes isn't something any of us have been demanding; it's purely for Netflix's benefit.
The current streaming market certainly looks very different from its early years, when we were promised something completely different from the cable TV bundling of old: as Lefsetz writes, "Maybe you’re not paying attention to streaming, but it’s a very dark path these companies are going down. Producing less content for more money as they add ads and come to resemble the TV networks of yore, while charging more."
I hope Netflix doesn't go down the timed-release route: it's already the most expensive streaming service I subscribe to, and being able to binge-watch new shows is one of the best things about it. I don't mind Apple TV+'s slower releases because it's less than a third of the cost, but a Netflix that keeps making its offering worse while charging ever higher prices doesn't seem sustainable to me. The only likely beneficiaries of a move to staggered releases are the pirate sites. As Lefsetz writes, "in the digital world, in the Internet world, you give the people what they want or you die."