Netflix turned itself into an entertainment empire by getting the world hooked on binge watching. That used to be a model rivals tried to copy, but now it’s starting to look outdated.
Cranking out entire original seasons to drop all at once is costly, and viewership can be hit or miss. And if users are accustomed to the instant gratification of bingeing, they’re more likely to cancel if they run out of things to watch. Netflix executives have been looking for more effective ways to deploy the company’s $17.5 billion programming budget, according to a person briefed on these discussions. But scrapping the binge model entirely isn’t on the table—Netflix co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos is adamant that doing so would make customers furious.
Younger competitors like HBO Max and Disney+, which don’t have as much content, are meanwhile betting on the traditional TV model of rolling out episodes one by one. Part of that is because they simply can’t afford to get on the binge-watching hamster wheel of putting season after season out all at once to keep subscribers from quitting. “To expect a new series a week is a very expensive habit to fill,” HBO Max Chief Content Officer Casey Bloys said. But executives are satisfied with the results, because spacing out releases generates buzz and keeps viewers hooked.