There is a pretty common critique of Netflix from the media as of late, that as one of the last streaming services holding onto the “binge” model, they tend to drop a series, even a huge one, and it disappears from the cultural conversation within a weekend to a week.
That’s what critics are saying about season 4 of Stranger Things, a great season to be sure, but one that is already starting to fade, at least until the final two episodes of the season premiere in July. But that was a production decision, not a viewership decision, and most fans seem to want to keep the binge model intact. And Netflix is listening to the fans.
Asked about whether Netflix would consider breaking up Stranger Things season 5 into weekly episodes, given the huge audience for the series, Peter Friedlander, Netflix’s head of scripted series for U.S. and Canada, shot that down with a fairly extensive response (via Variety):
“For the fans of ‘Stranger Things,’ this is how they’ve been watching that show, and I think to change that on them would be disappointing,” Friedlander said. “To not give them exactly what they’ve been expecting — which is ‘Stranger Things’ is a seasonal experience, they go through that with them — I think that it would be an abrupt change for the member.”
And he goes on to say that Netflix is unlikely to change its plans for the binge model, despite what all other streaming services are doing:
“We fundamentally believe that we want to give our members the choice in how they view,” he said. “And so giving them that option on these scripted series to watch as much as they want to watch when they watch it, is still fundamental to what we want to provide. And so when you see something like a batched season with ‘Stranger Things,’ this is our attempt at making sure we can get shows out quicker to the members.”
I see both sides of the argument. You can ask a question that makes a lot of sense like, “Would Game of Thrones have gotten as big as it did if it dropped entire seasons in a single day?” But you can counter that with the fact that even if the binge model cuts off chatter about a show pretty quickly, that does not mean the demand for some of these series appears to be lessened. Stranger Things, the example in question here, saw its English-language records smashed open by season 4 in terms of watchtime and viewership, so clearly everyone is showing up to binge as planned. While no, journalists like us can’t write weekly reviews or speculate on theories about what’s to come, Netflix’s biggest hits are…still its biggest hits, despite this model.
Though I do wonder if that’s universally true. Some series do feel like they may be suffering from this. I’ll use one of my favorite Netflix shows, The Witcher, as a prime example of this, where season 2 felt like it came and went with barely anyone even mentioning it. But was that a result of the binge model, or just because people weren’t that excited about season 2 compared to the first? I don’t know if we know for sure.
For now, despite recent troubles, Netflix isn’t changing this aspect of its business, and I know many viewers are grateful for that, despite these questions being asked.