Like you, I grew up on television. That meant that every week, the shows I followed would come around at a set interval – once a week at the same time every week. Cable and network television has been this way for a very long time, and until TiVo and streaming services came around, that was just the way you had to deal with watching your favorite shows. We started getting more power over not only when we watch our favorite shows, but how much of them we watch at time. We’re in control now, but is that really a good thing?
All right, I get it. We’re all busy. Shows we like might be on at the same time on different channels. People work different shifts that don’t allow for everyone to be available to watch what they want right as it’s being broadcast. Some people go weeks at a time without being able to watch anything on television. So it’s good to have control over when and how much we’re allowed to watch at one time, right? What’s the down side in that?
Sure, it’s great that we’re able to watch as much of a show as we want. After all, who doesn’t like a good, old fashioned binge session? Maybe we’re all quarantined indoors for 14 days because of a Coronavirus pandemic. In that case, yes, binge watching is vital. But what about under normal circumstances?
We all work hard, but sometimes one of the highlights of the day for us is discussing episodes of our favorite shows with our co-workers. We can always stick to talking about the weather or local or national news, but that doesn’t typically endear anyone to us. When we find a common interest in a TV series, we have broken through that social barrier of small talk and have begun to form real relationships.
One of my favorite times of the week used to be the Monday after the newest episode of Game of Thrones was released, theorizing with several of my co-workers who were also dedicated fans about what the ultimate, totally-not-underwhelming ending of the show would be. Each week would spark new conversation, and it would hype us all up for the following week’s episode.
Then there were the viewing parties. After waiting for an entire season for a show to come back on, we would be rewarded by all of us watching the episode together at the same time and the same place. The excitement we would all feel while watching it truly enhanced our experience, and I’m sure that also paid off big time for HBO with how much buzz the show got in its prime.
Sure, you can have a viewing party with a pre-loaded streaming show, but it’s not really the same if all of the episodes are out immediately. What are you going to do, watch all ten episodes together at the viewing party? If not, what’s stopping everyone from just going off on their own and watching the episodes on their own time and getting ahead of the others in the group? It just doesn’t have that same magic.
And that brings me to my biggest point. I’d like to compare the execution of two of the biggest streaming shows from 2019, Disney’s The Mandalorian and Netflix’s The Witcher.
Both shows seem to have paid off well for each platform, but which one seems to have made a bigger impact on our culture? It should be pretty easy for most people to see that the clear winner is The Mandalorian. If by now you don’t know who Baby Yoda is (or “The Child” or whatever his real name is), then you must have been hiding under a rock. On the other side, how much of a splash did The Witcher make? Ignoring the criticism the show got over its non-standard concurrent timelines, we just don’t have that much additional cultural impact from the show.
The Star Wars fan base and the Witcher fan base both existed prior to the aforementioned shows debuts on streaming television. However, only one of the shows created weeks upon weeks of buzz, and that was The Mandalorian. The reason for this is clear, the show had enough time to generate talk, articles, YouTube videos, forum discussion, etc. for it to really gain a large following prior to its season finale. The Witcher gained a lot of press right when it came out, the fans who love the books and video games by-in-large loved it, but then the buzz was gone after a few weeks. Sure, some memes still stuck around for a little while, but Baby Yoda is far more of a household name at this point than Jaskier or Roach or even Geralt of Rivia.
In summation, I believe that shows with large followings that return to a weekly release schedule only benefit from doing so. Not only do the shows generate buzz by doing so, they give fans enough time to bond with others over it, and that creates a positive effect for the platform that owns the show. While I enjoyed both shows, I truly wish that as a fan of The Witcher books, I could have had a weekly chat with my co-workers about the significance of the plot and nuances in the detail of the shows. I still got that with The Mandalorian, and I think that ultimately will prove to be the superior method of delivery.