OTT platforms lean toward the linear way
Instead of a season dump, a number of shows are dropping weekly episodes on OTT platforms. We take a look
Binge-watching all episodes of a season of an exciting show is the norm and with new titles released every few weeks on various streaming platforms, there is a lot to choose from. But while that is the traditional release format, few players in the business have been experimenting with linear release and opting for weekly episode drops. This trend seems to be gaining especially since the last year with more and more shows choosing it.
The latest news being that the popular Spanish series Money Heist will release the final season in two volumes. Recently web shows including Out of Love season 2, Aspirants, WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, The Mandalorian dropped episodes weekly, keep audiences on tenterhooks. Did the success of series, such as Chernobyl, Succession, Killing Eve and Abhay that went that route earlier, prompt the decision?
What clicks with the audiences
“Binge watching has its own advocates, where viewers prefer going down a thrilling start-to-finish journey. It concentrates the conversation over a shorter period of time and creates a here-and-now moment,” says the spokesperson of Disney+ Hotstar. The platform’s latest show, the Kate Winslet-starrer, Mare Of Easttown, dropped weekly episodes and has created quite a stir.
Talking about why this trend is gaining/ working, the spokesperson explains, “Weekly episodic releases are useful in keeping the conversations around a show going for a longer period of time. It gives viewers a chance to discuss the story and its nuances in detail, share theories and even speculate about the potential arcs that the show and/or its characters could take. It becomes a weekly ritual for the community of fans whose enthusiasm spreads to other viewers as well! For us, as Disney+ Hotstar, we like to try using both models and have seen that both work well. Our international shows like WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and our Hotstar Specials series Out of Love (S2) benefitted from a weekly drop format; whereas others like Special Ops, Aarya and the most recent November Story have been binge-watched by our viewers. It is both a creative and strategic decision and we see ourselves continuing to try new and innovative formats of dropping content on the platform.”
According to Vijay Koshy, President & Business Head, TVF, binge and weekly release working depends on a lot of factors. “Market maturity as OTT in developed markets regularly do a weekly release over a long period of time right from Game of Thrones, Mandalorian, Lupin etc. Secondly, studio background! HBO, Disney etc again have that cult following and audience will lap their releases either ways since they have that kind of equity with the audience. And lastly, genre. A thriller / crime and the edge-of-the-seat kind of content tends to have the binge approach. But in developing markets like ours, it’s very critical for platforms to ensure that the audience watches the show after sampling the initial episodes, so 9/10 times, most binge drop.”
It is a well-known fact that consumers are tuned to binge-watch. Viewers have developed this habit since the advent of OTT platforms. Will the weekly drop gain momentum? Manish Kalra, Chief Business Officer, ZEE5 India, admits that while they tried the episodic route with Abhay starring Kunal Kemmu, which was a one of their most successful shows, the fans kept pushing them to present all the episodes at once, instead of weekly. He adds, “Of course, last year, given the pandemic, there were alterations made where some shows were episodic and released weekly / fortnightly and not altogether. While this is an interesting trend, it probably is not something that will stay in the long-term. The audience demands to watch the entire season at once and episodic releases, while they create intrigue, might not satiate the consumers curiosity of the content.”
Relish the slow burn
Actor Rasika Dugal, who starred in Out of Love, reveals that having a weekly episode raised a lot of questions. From peers and audiences, everyone was impatient at first as they are used to binge-watching. She agrees that weekly episodes do generate more curiosity among viewers and keeps them hooked to the shows.
She says, “My social media was flooded with comments saying ‘why weekly’, ‘where is the next episode’. But over the weeks, I think, some people got used to this pattern of viewing. Some even said that they began to enjoy the wait. They had time to absorb what they had watched and also had something to look forward to. Some friends and fans, however, remained committed binge watchers and refused to watch till all five episodes were out.” Calling it an interesting trend which allows people to watch the show on a slow burn, she says audiences can relish an episode a week or choose to binge-watch it later or even do both!
Due to the boom in OTT consumption in the Covid-era, could weekly drops also be a tactic to spread the available content as platforms want to ensure they have enough material for the audiences over a period of time? Koshy disagrees, “Unlikely that strategy will work on any SVOD platform at least for local content. International shows still follow the global release strategy for example, Mare of Easttown currently does weekly release. Moreover, episodic releases in India, at best, work for shows that have a brand partner and YouTube as a platform. That is a model TVF has successfully established over the years - right from Pitchers to Kota Factory to Aspirants. The two reasons here are, the audience buildup and the brand requirement to sustain a longer campaign.”