Everyone in digital television is trying to get the release formula right. Netflix has had a lot of luck dropping full seasons of their hotly anticipated shows all at once, a practice that has given widespread cultural relevance to the term “binge watching.” Recently, Crackle has decided to tweak the formula by dropping their new legal thriller “Sequestered” in two six-episode blocks a few months apart, ostensibly to help build some buzz and develop a larger audience. Now Amazon is getting into the format game, following the Netflix model by dropping their buzzy new series “Transparent” in one big bingeable block.
The series stars Jeffrey Tambor as a parent of adult children who has made a late in life decision to transition from male to female. The topic is timely given the recent focus on trans issues in the media, and the cast, which includes Tambor as well as stars like Judith Light, Jay Duplass, Gaby Hoffman and Amy Landecker all gave strong performances in the pilot episode, which Amazon released months ago in order to gauge interest in the series. Creator Jill Soloway, whose resume includes favorites like “Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” may also be a major draw for television geeks.
As more and more shows premier exclusively online, producers have the option to play with traditional release models. So far there has been little enthusiasm for the weekly release schedule traditionally employed by mainstream television, but is bingeing really the future? The binge approach certainly has merits. When a new season of “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black” drops, the pre-release hype is huge and the series typically saturates social media during its first week or two as fans work their way through the series. However, the hype dies down more quickly, unlike with network series that gradually build public interest throughout their months-long seasons, hopefully leading to a crescendo during the season finale. For companies like Netflix and Amazon that need to attract subscribers in order to make original programming worthwhile, it seems like months of sustained buzz might be more lucrative than a single big splash.
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