The current season of “Stranger Things” marks a departure for the hit streaming series. Rather than dropping all the episodes at once, distribution for the hit show’s fourth go-round has been split into two halves, scheduled to stream in different financial quarters. It’s a new approach intended to prevent subscribers from canceling when they’re done watching.
As streaming matures, some content providers have shifted away from the binge model to a more traditional cadence of weekly episodes, often with cliffhangers at the end of each installment to keep streamers hooked. But does one model work better?
Search data from Roku — America’s No. 1 TV streaming platform by hours streamed — offers some insight. According to the streaming platform’s Advertising Audience Insights team, how and when streamers search for titles, genres and actor names can reveal when they might watch certain content.
To answer the question of which show release format – binge, episodic or a hybrid of the two – works best for a series, the team examined data from nine shows across the three categories. And, as it turns out, the data finds pros and cons for each.
The Binge Model
The binge model, where all episodes of a season released at once, hooks a streamer who quickly devours content and wants more when the series ends. This engagement can dwindle quickly, however. If the service has a good discovery or recommendation engine, it can keep subscribers engaged with new content. The downside, though, is that if streamers don’t reengage quickly, they might lapse and forget to come back.
Put another way: People who binge a series tend to move onto the next show within a few weeks. Specifically, 71% of these types of searches happen within three weeks of a series premiere, compared with 43% of episodic searches and 56% of hybrid searches within the same time period.
“For binge releases, acquisition and retention marketing strategies should go hand-in-hand,” says John Taveras, director of performance analytics at Roku. “Once streamers finish the show, your goal is to recommend relevant content immediately so they continue watching on your service and not a competitor’s service.”
The Episodic Model
Searches for titles that release weekly, also known as the episodic model, tend to decline after a show’s premiere week, but interest dwindles at a much slower rate than with binge titles. Buzz and watercooler conversations seem to build over time. On average, top binge titles stayed in Roku’s top 40 searches for just one or two weeks, while top episodic titles often stayed for the duration of their season and even beyond.
For example, searches for “Ted Lasso” grew steadily from an already strong base as the second season aired episodically and engagement continued beyond the finale. Similarly, “Yellowjackets” saw a nearly fivefold increase in search interest between its first and ninth episodes earlier this year as buzz built after each episode and fans began to speculate on what would happen next.
The biggest periods of excitement are typically around the premiere – an average of 25% of searches for titles that release weekly occur at the start of a series – and the season finale – an average of 13% of searches for titles that release weekly happen during the final week. These fall into two categories: Streamers who are excited about a series from the beginning and follow it faithfully, and those who opt to binge it all at once after the series has aired. Roku suggests that entertainment marketers should increase media for these two streaming cycles to maximize sign-ups, but not forget about the in-between weeks that are crucial to building water cooler conversations.
The episodic model can also encourage streamers to seek out other programs to fill the time between episodes. Says one Roku streamer in an interview, “I come back [for a new episode] and if I’m early — for example, maybe it’s not there yet — I may spend a few minutes to see what else is there.” For marketers, this is a great opportunity to drive retention and grow engagement from weekly streamers by marketing relevant titles they might watch.
Depending on the storyline, some genres lend themselves more to a binge strategy than an episodic one. In fact, the binge model has proved better for romantic comedies like “Emily in Paris” as it’s lighthearted and easy to watch at once. But a prestigious drama like “Succession” benefits from a weekly release, due to cliffhanger endings that make each episode like a film unto itself.
The Hybrid Model
Hybrid releases, which offer streamers a few episodes upfront before settling into weekly installments, can build an audience early and get them invested in the show before encouraging them to return on a regular basis for the next installment. Seasons tend to be shorter, however, since they’re front-loaded.
The hybrid model does seem to hook streamers, with 43% of this type of search happening within the first few weeks. Searches for hybrid shows decline after premiere week, more slowly than binge titles though faster than episodic titles.
Overall, Roku believes that content providers can benefit from deploying different strategies to market to various streamer behaviors. “For popular titles, weekly drops are meant to maximize sign-ups and build buzz over time”, says Lana Li, senior manager of media and entertainment ad marketing at Roku. “Series that release all episodes at once encourage bingers to watch in bursts, potentially growing engagement and ARPU for rising ad-supported tiers.”
May’s Top 10 searches
“Sonic The Hedgehog 2”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
“The Lost City”
“This Is Us”
“The Bad Guys”
“Sonic The Hedgehog”
“Better Call Saul”
“The Bad Guys”
New releases, season finales and bad guys drove search interest in May. Roku users were especially interested in the release of the family-friendly “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” and its 2020 predecessor. There was also notable interest in another kid-favorite, “The Bad Guys.” While the film was a box office success, Roku users were also interested in whether a TV spinoff was available, after rumors of such began swirling.
Meanwhile, the theatrical release of “Top Gun: Maverick” had users refreshing their memories of the 1986 original. And the looming series finales of weekly shows “This is Us” and “Better Call Saul” brought about a spike of interest in those shows.
Footnote: Roku defines Roku Search as an event occurring on a Roku device or TV, where a user queries a title, person or content hub/zone on the platform and then selects one of the results to stream. With all entertainment choices appearing in one place, Roku Search makes it easy for streamers to find exactly what they want to watch. Roku Search is available in English in Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Roku Search is also available in Spanish in Mexico and the United States. Channels included in search results may vary by region. View Roku search partners for a list of the channels included by region.
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