Netflix was a game-changer. People were thrilled when it first appeared on the scene, a vast and ever-expanding library of content available for a price well below that of a cable service package. It became a household name, a brand that turned into a life staple. Perhaps nothing enunciated this cultural evolution more than the concept of "binge-watching," a practice previously available only to those die-hard fans who owned entire seasons of television shows on physical media. However, Disney Plus, the newest and shiniest product to appear from the recent onslaught of announced streaming services, is challenging the status quo by releasing its television episodes on a week-by-week basis. The question now is whether it, like Netflix once did, will be able to reshape consumer viewing habits so that audiences intake content at a more controlled rate.
Binge-watching is a practice so commonplace that Merriam-Webster has a formal dictionary entry for the term. It is no longer a phenomenon associated with unbridled millennial habits, but merely the norm for viewers across the country and the world. This is, of course, due to the wide-ranging influence of Netflix, as well as other services that have followed its success.
It's not that scheduled television episodes have completely disappeared, or even lost their relevance entirely. The social media frenzies that occurred immediately after the newest episodes of Game of Thrones is proof of that. However, television shows usually find the main chunk of their viewers through streaming nowadays. Fans of Game of Thrones can rewatch it whenever they want with their HBO Go accounts. Network shows like Breaking Bad have attributed their success to Netflix as they continue to build their fanbases by picking up a growing online audience, not to mention the immense popularity of service exclusive content such as Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black. Despite the persistence of scheduled programming on other platforms, the dominance of Netflix and the proliferation of other streaming services have allowed people to consume their favorite shows at their own leisure (as long as they're careful to avoid reading spoilers).
At first glance, then, Disney Plus seems to be exploring relatively uncharted territory in the way it is choosing to roll out content, much like the Mandalorian himself roams the far reaches of the galaxy. Sure, Hulu has experimented with the same type of format, but the service has just recently passed 20 million subscribers, according to data retrieved by Statista. In contrast, Disney Plus is already approaching 2 million subscribers, with Digital TV Research predicting that it will cross the 100 million subscriber threshold by 2025. HighSpeedInternet.net also conducted a survey that concluded that two-thirds of Americans, or at least those within the studied group, plan to subscribe to Disney Plus. Clearly, Disney will introduce a wave of new television watchers to its new release format.
Luckily for Disney, though, Star Wars fans and, for that matter, fans of Disney's other licensed properties, will most likely adapt to these changes. Releasing weekly episodes means more in-depth analyses from entertainment websites like this one. Geek culture thrives on post-episode discussions and Internet think pieces, and The Mandalorian provides eight different opportunities for next-day commentary for each one of its scheduled episodes. In fact, Disney Plus' rollout will probably fill a water-cooler-shaped hole in people's lives and provide online communities an opportunity to reconvene every weekend. This is an aspect of consuming television that got relatively lost with the advent of binge culture. Besides, The Mandalorian will always be available to stream even after its initial debut, so even those without a Disney Plus subscription on day one can catch it later on in their lives.
It is important to note that Disney is most likely choosing to release their content on a weekly schedule because it encourages viewers to keep their subscription. Releasing an entire season upfront means that people can sign up for a free trial, binge the entire show, then cancel right before getting billed. Disney is hoping, in this case, that subscribers will become hooked on the first episode or two, then stick around for the rest. It's a smart strategy, especially considering competitors' wide swath of content, even in comparison to the already expansive Disney Plus library. It's also the only factor that may cause people to hold off on paying for a subscription at the very beginning in lieu of catching the entire series at the end of its run, especially since the last episode airs during the holiday break.
Still, Disney Plus isn't in danger of losing any subscribers due to its current distribution model. The service has plenty of content to keep viewers occupied until the next episode of The Mandalorian. In fact, this weekend will probably signal another boost in subscriber numbers, when people get off from work and school and episode two arrives. The only way that the Disney Plus shows could completely fail to generate an audience is if they premiered on network television to a set schedule. Even then, they would probably survive if they migrated to streaming services after their initial run so people could watch them months afterward.
People of all ages have become used to binging shows through Netflix and other streaming services, this is true. But Disney Plus' way of offering our entertainment is not entirely new. The company treads familiar ground, revisiting what used to be a central part of pop culture while allowing its audiences to maintain the freedom to watch whenever they please. Perhaps most importantly, though, The Mandalorian's slower release will give subscribers that itch for MORE. It will steer them towards those fan communities to dissect and theorize each episode until the next dose arrives. Simply put, it's what Disney wants, and Disney always gets what it wants.
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