The No. 1 streamer has strayed from the binge model it created, but other streamers’ episodic strategy poses a real challenge
The popular Netflix thriller “You” released the second batch of episodes in its fourth season on March 9, bringing audiences back to the show a month after the season premiered. That helped it become the second most in-demand Netflix original in the last 30 days, according to Parrot Analytics’ data, which takes into account consumer research, streaming, downloads and social media, among other engagement.
Over the past month, “You” had 39.7 times the demand of the average series in the U.S. That put it in the top 0.2% of streaming shows, suggesting that Netflix loosening its binge-viewing playbook to experiment with split-season releases is paying dividends.
The only other Netflix original to have higher demand in the Feb. 13-March 14 period was “Stranger Things,” Netflix’s biggest original series to date. Notably, Netflix also split the latest season of “Stranger Things” into two batches of episodes. The drops in May and July allowed the show to dominate attention throughout the late spring and summer of 2022.
These aren’t the only shows where Netflix has broken from its once sacrosanct binge-release model. “Ozark,” “Money Heist” and “Lucifer” are a few of the highest-profile shows to get the split-season treatment.
However, Netflix may be behind the curve of this shift in the streaming industry. We have seen an explosion in the number of streaming original series released on a periodic schedule in the past four years. The series that spaced out episodes rather than dropping them all at once have been more effective at capturing a greater share of audience attention. Among the most in-demand new series premieres of 2022, only two of the top 10 shows that had the highest demand in their first 30 days dropped all their episodes at once (both were Netflix originals).
The latest season of “You” suggests Netflix might be learning how to capture and maintain audience attention with these periodic releases, though the real leap would be testing a true episode-by-episode release. (2015’s “Between” was the rare example of a past weekly release by Netflix.)
To be clear, Netflix has been good for “You,” which moved to streaming after debuting on the Lifetime cable channel. Demand for the show hit an all-time high after its second season premiered on Netflix, reaching 68 times the average series demand by Dec. 31, 2019.
But demand for new seasons of the show has been falling since then. Peak demand over the last two seasons hit a lower ceiling each time. The latest season of “You” peaked sooner and at a lower level of audience demand than the previous two seasons, reaching 55 times the average series demand two days after the first tranche of episodes was released.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, if we look at demand for the latest season, the decay rate of demand in the first 27 days has been similar. We can see in the chart that demand from the initial peak tapers off at about the same rate for the past three seasons, which suggests that when presented with half the episodes, audiences don’t seem to be burning through that content at a significantly faster rate.
The even better news about the split-season model is that it creates a second peak in demand within the season. Demand for “You” Season 4 peaked even higher following its second batch of episodes than it did after its initial premiere. It looks very likely that when we assess this season from a 60- or 90-day perspective, it may well have gotten more audience attention than its previous two seasons, just over a longer period of time.
Obviously, stretching out the amount of time that viewers stay on is the goal for a subscription-based service like Netflix. Along with recent moves like cracking down on passwords, Netflix’s shift away from the binge model is another example of how it’s looking to maximize the return on its content investment. If trends continue, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a world where the final season of “Stranger Things” is parceled out in weekly installments as Netflix tries to squeeze every last drop of audience attention from its most valuable show.
Parrot Analytics is the industry leader in global audience demand measurement. The company measures global supply and demand for entertainment, capturing over 2 billion audiences expressing demand for content and talent in over 100 languages, across all platforms, in 200+ countries. Parrot Analytics' partners use this knowledge to help better understand global supply and demand across all platforms to value content and talent, drive better production, distribution, acquisition and marketing decisions, as well as increase D2C growth and retention. For more information, see www.parrotanalytics.com.