“Binge-watching”—the popular term for watching multiple episodes of a TV show in succession—has become part of our lingo, thanks to rerun marathons on TV and the rise of streaming media platforms, many of which began releasing entire seasons at a time. And with the onset of COVID in 2020, the practice saw an exponential increase. According to an international study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 73.7% of respondents reported that their amount of binge-watching increased substantially during the pandemic.
But while binge-watching saw a spike during the pandemic, the overall trend since 2017 has been toward shows that release weekly—like Disney+’s popular series The Mandalorian and Loki. Are people “binged out”? Or are other factors at work? Let’s look at six reasons why weekly releases are making a comeback.
Weekly releases allow viewers to relish one episode at a time—just like we used to do. The anticipation of waiting a week to see what happens next keeps us on the edge of our seats. “It’s like the good old days of having to wait for content and have that anticipation last a week and not five seconds,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
2. Creating Community
When a viewer binges a series, they do it on their own schedule—one week they might binge-watch a new show, and the following week they may return to a series from a decade ago. With weekly releases, however, thousands of viewers watch the same episode at the same time, creating the opportunity to pick it apart with friends and colleagues while it’s still fresh. This builds community and helps foster excited, morning-after conversations where friends discuss the episode from the night before.
3. Savoring the Episode
Releasing one episode at a time allows both creators and viewers to relish the individual character of each episode on its own merits, rather than experiencing them as small moments in an overarching series. “Individual episodes don’t hold much meaning when you watch four or five at a time,” television critic Allison Keene notes, “and increasingly they aren’t meant to.” Viewers of older series can recall certain episodes of shows, often by name; the return of the weekly episode might just bring back this kind of episode savoring.
4. The Churn and Burn
Although binge-watching produces an enjoyable sensation of continuity, it also encourages us to burn our way quickly through one series before moving on to the next, and the next. On the production side, this demand encourages a tendency to focus on quantity over quality to fill the need. “The turnover for binge series is so high, and the room that streaming services have to air these series is as infinite as their server space,” says Keene. “This has all fed into an overwhelming glut of television that we can’t meaningfully engage with anymore.”
5. Binge Fatigue
You’ve likely heard of “Zoom fatigue,” the uniquely exhausting nature of videoconferencing during a pandemic-era. But according to Esperanza Miyake, a fellow in journalism at the University of Strathclyde, the crisis may have also produced a parallel phenomenon known as media fatigue. “We now wish to resist the immediate, and consciously search for the pleasures of waiting, anticipation and longevity,” she writes. For our tired brains, reducing binge-watching and returning to the relative simplicity of weekly episodes may sound appealing after a long, media-soaked lockdown.
6. No Spoilers
The last reason is the simplest of all. When a series is released weekly, no one will be able to spoil the ending for you—unless you have an “in” with one of the writers, producers, or showrunners.
The rise of streaming services has brought binge-watching to the forefront, but many Americans are still denied this guilty pleasure because they lack the high-speed internet they need to stream. Let’s get all of America connected to high-speed internet, so everyone has the choice to binge or take a show week-by-week. To learn more about connecting all of America to broadband and to get involved, visit Beyond’s Broadband Infrastructure campaign.