Why Aren't Netflix's Rivals Following Its Lead on Binge Viewing?

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netflix binge viewing
AP/Netflix, Melinda Sue GordonKevin Spacey as U.S. Rep. Frank Underwood in "House of Cards."
One of the things that sets Netflix (NFLX) apart is its decision to offer entire seasons of original content at once. When the second season of "House of Cards" becomes available on Valentine's Day, fans of the award-winning political drama will be able to watch the entire season in one sitting if they so choose.

Netflix calls it binge viewing, and it's a far cry from the traditional release platform where networks offer episodes in weekly installments with lulls for reruns along the way.

Netflix has championed this approach since it broke into the market of offering first-run serialized dramas two years ago with the introduction of "Lilyhammer." At the time it was unconventional, but now that Netflix has followed suit with "House of Cards," "Orange is the New Black" and the "Arrested Development" revival it is something that viewers have come to expect out of the leading video service.

Binge viewing is the new normal, but that doesn't mean that catering to it is the right approach.

Streaming Against the Current

It's been two years since Netflix decided to cater to binge viewers, but its rivals don't seem particularly ready to play along.

Amazon.com (AMZN) broke into original programming by letting its users vote on several pilots. The first two shows to make the cut -- "Alpha House" and "Betas" -- made their season debuts in November. As Netflix's closest rival in the streaming business, the market was naturally going to keep an eye on how the leading online retailer would dispense the episodes. Would it follow Netflix or would it give a nod to traditional release schedules?

Amazon chose to carve its own path.
When "Alpha House" and "Betas" debuted, it made the first three episodes of each available immediately. However, the balance of the seasons were dispensed in weekly doses.

It seemed as if Netflix was going to retreat from its binge viewing mantra a month later when it rolled out "Turbo FAST." In conjunction with DreamWorks Animation (DWA), this was Netflix's first foray into original programming for children.

It only made the first five episodes available at the time, promising to release more in batches along the way. Netflix backed away from suggestions that it was changing its tune. It explained that it merely went with the first five installments because those were what it had ready at the time. Kids also likely have different expectations of binge viewing, since many are happy to watch the same episodes over and over.

Playing with the Hulu Hoop

It's not just Amazon bucking Netflix's trend. When Chipotle Mexican Grill's (CMG) "Farmed and Dangerous" -- a comedy that skewers agri-chemical providers -- is introduced on Hulu later this month, the episodes will be introduced on a weekly basis.

Amazon, Hulu, and premium cable channels could've followed Netflix's lead, but they have all chosen to stretch out their original content as much as possible.

Netflix is sticking to releasing whole seasons at once, believing that's what customers want. Netflix is serving 2 billion hours of content a month, so there's good reason to trust its judgment.

However, the content does tend to lose a lot of the weekly dissection through social media and at the office water cooler when everybody's watching at their own pace. There isn't a lot of in-depth chatter since viewers probably don't want to play spoiler to those that have yet to catch up. It's also hard to build momentum when everybody isn't on the same page. There will never be a "who shot J.R." moment in binge viewing.

We may eventually see Netflix cave in to see if it can get more mileage out of rolling a show out slowly, the old school way. Milking the most out of every weekly morsel with its breadth of more than 44 million streaming subscribers worldwide could be something special. We may never see it, but it certainly seems to be what everybody outside of Netflix wants to show us.

Motley Fool analyst Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Chipotle Mexican Grill, DreamWorks Animation and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Netflix.


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7 Comments

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daniel.burtwiser

With services like https://unlocator.com the binge viewing is spreading like wild fire.

February 09 2014 at 9:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
drew.glass

Put some fresh Prince of bel air on net flix "know wat im sayin"

February 06 2014 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
STAN

Trying to compare apples to oranges like this article is trying to do is usless hype.

February 06 2014 at 7:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bagthepi

So what if Netflix releases the entire season at once? For some people, that's ideal. For others, they can choose to watch episode by episode or some variation thereon. It is not 'one size fits all'. Frankly, I prefer the entire season released at once. I don't have water coolers or other gatherings around which to discuss the various permutations of the series, regardless of how it's offered. So let Netflix release it all at once. The viewers then get to decide just how much at one sitting they want to view. Sounds just right to me.

February 06 2014 at 5:54 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Elvis

they have to get themselves up & running first! Roku & Hulu services run so poorly, it will be awhile before they catch up!

February 06 2014 at 3:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Logical53

Can't wait for the second season of House of Cards. It is a great series and I'm glad it will be renewed for a 3rd season. Regular TV has to many reality junk shows so I'm happy for Netflix. I can watch what I'm interested in any time. Glad to hear the whole season is being released. Love it...

February 06 2014 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tmmack2

OMG!! We can't have that. Time for some Big Government oversight and regulation!!

February 06 2014 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tmmack2's comment
Calvin

I know,they had better get in there before it all unravels and we are left with nothi.....nevermind.

February 06 2014 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
taja2

Enjoying Netflix streaming quite a bit although I don't have time to binge. I have HuluPlus but I am about to drop it. I'm not interested in a lot of their content and you have to watch commercials.

February 06 2014 at 10:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Dick

Thank god for Netflix with all the useless crap being shown on Network TV as well as the stupid shows on A&E and others. Rarely to I ever watch anything on ABC, NBC or CBS....and it puzzles me as to why anyone one does. All these commercial's featuring inter racial couples is disgusting and glamorizing it is disgusting. People who marry outside their race and have children are giving those children a death sentence if they ever need a medical transplant....no donor's can match!!!

February 06 2014 at 10:33 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Dick's comment
merleamwest

Your idiocy deserves no response. It speaks for itself. *Dick*

February 06 2014 at 11:57 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
cantrellja

That is the dumbest thing I have ever read. Transplants are based on blood type, and specific genetic markers and those markers are not race-specific/exclusive. You are a racist, sir. And a dumb one.

February 06 2014 at 6:16 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
JIM

On Amazon prime i have watched 4 seasons of Justified, and most of breaking bad. I watch Netflix a lot too.

February 06 2014 at 10:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply