Stranger Things fans who have been waiting for Season 4 for nearly three years may have been mildly irritated to realize that after quickly consuming seven extra-long episodes in a row, it all came to an abrupt end. The season is now on short hiatus until July 1st when the rest of the S4 episodes will be available. This has become known as “midseason break” and is a model that broadcasters and streamers are increasingly adopting for their most popular shows.
From “Breaking Bad” to “Ozark” to “Better Call Saul,” mid-season breaks have typically been applied to shows coming toward the end of their run, especially when there are more episodes than previous seasons. Still, such interruptions can be frustrating for fans who have already invested dozens of hours into a story.
Although Netflix has had some mid-season breaks, it traditionally churns out all seasons at once so subscribers can watch at their leisure. And according to Peter Friedlander, Netflix’s head of scripted shows for the US and Canada, it’s a strategy that will continue into the future.
“Basically, we believe that we want to give our members choices about how they see themselves,” Friedlander said at a meeting of the Hollywood Radio Television Society this week. “And so it’s still fundamental to what we want to offer, giving them the ability to see as much of these scripted series as they want to see when they see them. So if you’re seeing something like a batch season of Stranger Things, this is our attempt to make sure we can get the shows to members faster.”
When asked about Netflix’s approach to mid-season breaks for some of its shows, Friedlander noted, “We’ve done some experimentation in this area. But it’s also that you offer multiple episodic viewing experiences, it’s not a standalone. So it really honors what we think, our relationship with our members and what their expectations are. There were other types of starting cadences, but that’s associated with an unscripted approach or a competitive approach.”
It’s worth noting that competing services Disney+ and HBO Max typically haven’t instituted mid-season breaks for their scripted dramas, but they tend to release episodes on a weekly schedule. That means those who want to consume a show will have to wait until the end of a season. Many viewers believe that in the streaming age, handing out episodes one at a time is a more solid strategy for retaining customers who may only subscribe to certain series.
The binge model allows viewers to more easily “switch and come back” when there are specific shows they want to watch. That means that if a series wraps up its entire season, customers can come back to the service, watch it, and then opt out until something else that interests them is released. While the same can be done by waiting for a weekly series to air its final episode, streamers are banking on the excitement and excitement of a show’s first premiere to engage subscribers early on.
While it seems mid-season breaks aren’t going away anytime soon, it might be reassuring for Netflix subscribers to know that day one binge-watching will continue for the foreseeable future, if it’s because they don’t allowed to watch them at their own pace, or because they can opt out at the end of the season.