How Netflix Could Use the ‘Stranger Things’ Release Strategy to Keep Subscribers | Chart

Netflix is in an increasingly tough battle to not only add new subscribers but also keep its existing customers engaged — and not watching content on one of its competitors.

Fortunately for Netflix, it has a trick up its sleeve. By tweaking the release schedule of some of its bigger-name shows to resemble the staggered release of the latest “Stranger Things” season, Netflix has a proven strategy to keep subscribers engaged, according to Whip Media viewer data, which is based on more than 23 million global registered users of the TV Time app, which allows fans to track their favorite TV shows and movies.

Why is this important? Because it can help Netflix limit churn (the rate in which subscribers leave a service). More on that in a moment.

First, let’s dive into the data. The fourth season of “Stranger Things” hit Netflix on May 22, and anticipation was high among the show’s fans. The show’s viewership immediately spiked once Netflix’s initial batch of seven episodes hit the service, lapping the previous weekend’s U.S. average views — when only the first three seasons were available — by 8000%.

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Eventually, as the week’s went on and “Stranger Things” fans found time to catch the latest season, the show’s viewership tailed off, as you’d expect. But you might recall Netflix held off on releasing the final two episodes of the season until July 1 — six weeks after the season debuted. And that decision paid off with a second — and even bigger — jump in viewership for Netflix.

When the final two episodes hit Netflix on Friday, July 1, “Stranger Things” had even more viewers watch the show over the weekend than watched the season premiere, according to Whip Media’s data.

And that spike makes sense, considering some “Stranger Things” fans maybe didn’t watch the fourth season the first weekend was available, but got to it by mid-June. By the time July 1 hit, the fans who had watched the fourth season during the season’s six week hiatus were ready for the two new episodes to be released.

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So Netflix’s unique release strategy for “Stranger Things” ended up paying off with two viewership spikes during the season, rather than the typical season premiere peak followed by diminishing viewership. That’s evident when comparing it to the third season of “Stranger Things.” Overall, the fourth season of “Stranger Things” had 26% more U.S. viewers in its first 90 days than season three did during its first three months on Netflix, Whip Media found.

“This analysis gives an unprecedented level of detail and visibility into not only streaming performance, but also the impact of release strategy on driving viewership,” said Vince Muscarella, Whip Media’s VP of sales. “This is truly a differentiator for us and should be of value to anyone in the industry responsible for release strategy and streaming research.”

The success of this release strategy could make it one that Netflix leans on more with its tentpole shows moving forward. Again, churn is the concern. Historically, Netflix has had a lower churn rate than its competitors — but it’s also facing more competition than ever before. Between Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Hulu, Paramount+ and Peacock — just to name a few options — fans have more streaming options to turn to.

How the “Stranger Things” Season 4 release strategy paid off for Netflix (Whip Media)
How the “Stranger Things” Season 4 release strategy paid off for Netflix (Whip Media)

And churn is something that’s impacted Netflix this year. Netflix lost nearly 1 million subscribers during the second quarter of 2022, before recently posting a stronger Q3 in which the company added 2.4 million customers.

One roadblock to Netflix adopting a more staggered release strategy, though, is Netflix itself.

“We think our bingable release model helps drive substantial engagement, especially for newer titles,” Netflix said in its Q3 letter to shareholders. The binge model, the company added, allows viewers “to lose themselves in stories they love.”

That’s a stance Netflix may want to reconsider, though, especially when it comes to its more popular titles. Staggering the release schedule for its biggest shows would make fans think twice before dropping the service, at least, if they know one of their favorite shows is returning with a few new episodes in a month.

Sean Burch is a marketing insights analyst at Whip Media, a WrapPRO partner. Click here for more from Whip Media.

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