Why Streaming Services Keep Screwing Up Binge-Watching

While some industry insiders argue that bingeing is actually better for bringing customers to a streamer’s app—you’ll return multiple times in one week, subliminally absorbing what else is on the service rather than just clicking over once a week for the single program you want—the general public consensus is that “findability,” the act of discovering content on a platform, is almost impossible. A report from advertising trade organization Digital Content Next likens the experience of idly flipping through a streamer’s home screen to “the old days of Blockbuster,” saying it takes more time than it should and effectively kills consumer excitement.

About 60 percent of users report quitting services because they decided they’ve seen everything there is to watch, while a smaller portion, about 36 percent, say they find the whole “what to watch” struggle exhausting.

“Consumers see media as one entity, but providers, publishers, and platforms think of it as walled gardens, and they each want their walled garden to be best,” says Shapiro. “What that has created is the worst user interface in the history of media. It’s frustrating and friction-filled, and it’s becoming more and more joyless on a daily basis.” Consumers, he adds, aren’t watching as much, simply because they think they can’t get through it all, “despite the fact that they’re paying for it.”

There are some arguments to be made for The Bear’s binge release. (FX and Hulu presumably have millions of data points that suggest it’s the right move, despite our knee-jerk reaction.) The Bear’s pacing and 30ish-minute episodes make it highly addictive and tailor-made for those “just one more” moments. Moreover, comedies—which The Bear claims to be, though that’s debatable—generally perform better than dramas in the binge model.

Binge-watching typically does favorable things for new shows since the audience can quickly immerse themselves in its world, and research shows that younger viewers—like Gen Z adults and millennials, who undoubtedly make up a good portion of Bear viewers—tend to prefer all-at-once releases overall.

But with Netflix launching its own ad tier and picking up things like live sports, live comedy, and the WWE, it looks like the TV industry might be easing off the binge model just a bit. Sponsors like to buy packages, Gupta says, and the weekly model gives you more hits to offer to advertisers.

“It used to be ‘We’re leaning into binge. We shouldn’t have ads, either,’” says Shapiro. “Now the pendulum has swung completely back the other way. Everyone’s leaning more toward the traditional network thought process, which is that you need ads and subscriptions, and you need to keep people tuned in rather than signing out.”