Arts & Entertainment, Pop Rhetoric

Pop Dialectic: To binge or not to binge?

Since the dawn of time, many great conflicts have arisen—from religious crusades to World Wars. The most polarizing? Whether streaming services should release episodes every week or all at once. While the introduction of platforms like Netflix boasted users’ ability to binge new content rather than wait, many have returned to staggering the release of episodes. The McGill Tribune weighs in: Which is better?

Same service, different font — Aimee DeLong

Whether it is online shopping or scrolling through social media, Gen Z, unlike older generations, has become accustomed to immediate access to everything. Since there seems to be an ever-growing laundry list of things we can access in a matter of seconds, why stop at Netflix?

Largely, the appeal of streaming services is the ability to watch whatever you want, whenever you want—from comfort shows to streaming services originals. When watching a high-stakes show like Stranger Things, access to the entire season on-demand prevents the anxieties of cliffhangers from lurking in and consuming people’s minds. The return to the week-by-week model of releasing episodes raises the question of why we bothered giving up cable in the first place.

We cannot deny that these media companies, despite critiques of instant gratification, formed their identities in competition with cable. Conversely, they now find themselves doing exactly what these broadcasting corporations do—release content weekly and drop periodic promo material. With the binge model, individuals retain freedom of choice, streaming content in a way that fits their needs. Meanwhile, with the week-by-week release, viewers must tune into the show as quickly as possible to avoid being bombarded with spoilers online. If you don’t watch the latest episode of popular Disney+ shows like She Hulk the moment it comes out, Instagram will be sure to shove the plot in your face with painstaking detail. 

In the end, people will choose the method of watching television that works best for them. Yet, forcing the weekly release schedule on streaming services revokes choice, rendering any platform virtually identical to cable. I’m not telling you to watch all seven years of New Girl in one sitting—I’m just telling Netflix to stay in its lane. 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! — Charlotte Hayes

To compete with Netflix, legacy media companies are keeping or reinstating weekly episode drops for original content. HBO Max (or Crave) has kept the weekly release model for on-air HBO shows and its exclusive streaming content. Subscribers don’t have to wait until a show has wrapped its season to have access to it digitally, and can synchronously log on to watch as it airs live on television. It’s nothing revolutionary, but the power of the weekly release model lies in its simplicity of access and appeal to community anticipation. 

The week-to-week model is precisely the return to form we need. This model brings back water-cooler conversations, a quintessential element of media consumption. Weekly releases afford fans the opportunity to discuss shows as they progress, enjoying every episode rather than the larger, season-wide discourses. Instead of rushing through a show and dodging spoilers on your Twitter timeline, viewers can watch and take in an episode––its theories, designs, elements, and gags––on its release day. 

Shows made for the binge model can feel rough and unpolished as showrunners scramble to keep up with the unrelenting demand of younger, chronically online audiences. In an ironic twist, the hyper-connectivity of the internet is cheapening the experience of watching our favourite shows on these digital platforms. It strips all the enjoyment out of every episode, reducing the experience to simply a race to find out what happens first. In this way, the binge model feels distinctly pro-consumption and very anti-art. 

The weekly release model has been in place for years—it’s what makes television such an exciting medium, distinct from film. Showrunners intend their art to be seen and savoured at every interval. The weekly model is not only better for the viewer, but for their community connections. 

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