Could Netflix Move Away From the Binge-Watch Model?

K-dramas offer an alternative for Netflix users who miss the weekly TV-watching experience.

Han So-Hee and Song Kang in Netflix K-Drama Nevertheless
Photo: Netflix

Netflix is known for its binge-watch model in which the streamer releases a bulk of episodes (usually a season or “part”) all at once, allowing the viewer to marathon multiple hours of TV in one sitting. However, not all of Netflix’s content follows this model. Much of Netflix’s increasingly expansive selection of Korean dramas come on a weekly basis, more akin to the traditional broadcast TV model that to what we’ve come to expect from the streaming giant. This suggests that a) there is something about K-dramas that encourages weekly viewing and b) Netflix is open to moving away from its binge-model strategy. As Netflix continues to grow internationally, could we see more weekly releases from the streamer? Let’s discuss!

Which Netflix Shows Are Released Weekly?

Many have bemoaned the relative death of the weekly TV-watching model. And while broadcast and cable are far from dead, an increasingly large segment of the viewing public is now watching things in a binge-watch model, due to the increase in streaming platforms that offer both new and old titles in bulk fashion.

There are pros and cons to each model, but one of the major differences between the two is the shape of cultural discourse around a hit show. When a TV show is watched in a weekly fashion, the conversation is organically more drawn out, and usually allows a more thorough reaction to individual installments. When a TV show is released all at once, the cultural discourse tends to burn fast and bright, with an emphasis less on individual episodes and more on the larger arcs of the season and the season’s conclusion.

It’s interesting that Netflix, a streamer known for pioneering the binge-watch model, is now experimenting with weekly “broadcasts”—and that K-dramas represent a bulk of that strategy. While Netflix has a massive catalogue of older K-dramas, most new K-dramas released on Netflix become available to watch on the streamer just a few hours after their broadcast premieres in Korea—such as Nevertheless, which premiered on Netflix on June 20th and will wrap up its run later this month.

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Outside of the world of K-dramas, most of Netflix’s experiments with a weekly release model have fallen in the reality programming section of the streamer. Earlier this year, Netflix chose to release the second seasons of both The Circle and Too Hot to Handle in weekly clumps, situated somewhere between the binge-watch model and the traditional one-episode-per-week schedule. This makes sense for unscripted reality TV, which thrives off of the kinds of melodramatic plot twists that make for perfect water-cooler discussion (read: Twitter discourse). The inclusion of K-dramas into this category suggests there is something about their format that also encourages weekly viewing.

The number of TV shows released on a weekly basis will only grow as Netflix’s investment in K-dramas grows, which it is poised to do. At the beginning of 2021, Netflix released an official statement announcing the leasing of two production facilities outside of Seoul, citing the move as “another important example of our continued commitment to investing in Korea’s creative ecosystem.” According to the release, Netflix invested over 700 million dollars in Korean content from 2015 to 2020.

Netflix’s Expansion Into Global Markets

Netflix’s offerings of TV shows released weekly could grow as the streamer expands into more global markets, especially dependent on what kinds of distribution deals and/or regulations Netflix encounters as they look to grow in various territories around the world. Though most analysts seem to agree that Netflix has more or less reached a saturation point when it comes to its U.S. subscriber base, there’s definitely room to grow in international territories, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, which saw massive gains in 2020.

As Netflix and other streamers expand internationally, governments around the world are looking to regulate the industry in their home countries. The most significant of this rules is the E.U.’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AMSD), which sets investment obligations for streamers looking to operate in its member countries. The AMSD requires streamers to “offer a 30 percent quota of European content to European subscribers … [and] allows EU countries to introduce nationally tailored legislation to make streamers directly reinvest a percentage of their revenues in each European country where they operate and also regulate their business models in individual territories.” In other words, if Netflix wants to operate in Europe, it has to invest in the country’s existing media industry and infrastructure, which means supporting existing formats—and audiences—that thrive under different kinds of release models.

Why Does Netflix Release K-Dramas Weekly?

It’s unclear how Netflix’s continued expansion into global markets could impact its mostly binge-model format. After all, Netflix still mostly releases international series in one go, rather than in the K-drama weekly model. This suggests that there is something unique about K-dramas—and/or k-drama fandom—that makes the weekly release model a smart strategy for Netflix.

If you’ve ever watched a K-drama, this makes sense. Like reality competition TV, K-dramas come in a format that was built to encourage weekly viewing. Most episodes end with an emotionally charged, dynamic-driven cliffhanger that both leaves viewers eager to find out what happens next and also makes for a good discussion point amongst fans. From there, the episode usually fades into stylized snapshots of some of the episode’s best moments—which, again, encourages conversation of what was just watched. Finally, the installment goes into a brief promo for the coming episode. This promo isn’t treated as something separate from the episode, but is rather stitched into the fabric of the show. It would feel strange to watch an episode of a K-drama that doesn’t end in this recognizable format, and this format makes less sense in the binge-watch model, in which you can simply click over to the next episode rather than dwelling on what you just watched and its story possibilities moving forward.

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Not all TV shows benefit from the binge model, just as not all TV shows benefit from the weekly release model. While Netflix has mostly committed to the former in the rollout of both its new, original titles, the streamer has shown a willingness to follow a weekly release should the format (and distribution/production deal) warrant it. The result has been and will likely continue to be a consistent and varied offering of TV dramas for Netflix users who miss the weekly TV-watching experience but who aren’t looking to watch series elsewhere.

Would you like to see more weekly-release TV series on Netflix? Let us know in the comments below.