New Data on the Best Streaming Release Strategies

House of the Dragon
(Image credit: HBO)

SAN FRANCISCO—As streaming video providers struggle to retain viewers and improve profits in an highly competitive streaming landscape, Samba TV has released a new analysis of the top streaming programs of 2022 that provides a number of insights into the impact of different streaming release models. 

In releasing new content, Netflix pioneered the idea of releasing all the episodes of a show simultaneously to encourage binge viewing. But as the streaming market has become more competitive, entrants like Disney and HBO Max have relied on weekly episodes while others have experimented with two-part drops.

Samba TV’s analysis found programs leveraging a weekly release model gained more viewers over time, making this rollout appear to be the best choice for content platforms looking to maximize total viewership. 

On the other hand, shows that released all episodes in bulk were most likely to retain fans throughout the season, making the model of dropping all episodes at once ideal for streamers looking to maximize initial buzz and keep audiences binging.

The Samba TV researchers reported that HBO’s “House of the Dragon” drove interest each week of its season with new episode drops, which ultimately culminated in the highest reach, while Netflix’s bulk-release of “Wednesday” generated the strongest buzz in its first 50 days and earned the top spot based on premiere viewership for the year.

“In the battle among streaming providers, success is defined by various metrics: maximizing subscribers, platform engagement, and show audience,” said Samba TV co-founder and CEO Ashwin Navin. “Comparing Netflix's ‘Wednesday’ and HBO's ‘House of the Dragon’ illustrates two different approaches that draw massive audiences, with an intense focus on how to captivate younger, diverse viewers. As the streaming landscape rapidly evolves, it's essential to develop innovative, data-driven ways to break away from the pack.”

Key findings of the analysis include: 

  • Netflix’s “Wednesday” was the number one premiere of 2022. By its 50th day of release, a key measurement benchmark, “Wednesday” was the most-viewed premiere episode of the year, drawing 8.7M households and surpassing “House of the Dragon” premiere viewership of 8.4M households.
  • HBO’s “House of the Dragon” was the number one show of 2022 based on total deduplicated household viewership across all episodes, generating the greatest viewership at 16.3M households compared to “Wednesday” with 12.2M households.
  • Bulk-release shows drove new viewership over time at a lower rate than weekly releases, but were more likely to retain their initial fans throughout the season. The average retention rate between premiere and finale viewership (based on viewership within the first 50 days) for bulk release shows was 47% across the 9 bulk release shows within the 20 shows analyzed. Among these 20 shows, 7 out of the top 10 highest retention rate shows released episodes in bulk as opposed to weekly or in two parts.
  • In general, shows with weekly episode drops gained more new viewers over time. The ongoing buzz generated by new episodes released each week caused many of the shows with weekly episode releases to more than double their viewership between premiere and full-season. The average lift between premiere and total viewership for the 8 weekly release shows within the 20 shows analyzed was 119%. 
  • The two-part release model shows potential to maximize the retention benefits of bulk releases, along with the weekly release model’s ability to maximize total unique tune-ins throughout the season. Across the shows with two-part drops, there was an average higher lift from premiere to total viewership than bulk-release shows (58% vs. 45%). Additionally, the average retention rate from premiere to finale was higher than weekly release shows, suggesting that two-part releases may present a third way for streamers to partially reap the benefits of both release models, sacrificing neither total household viewership nor retention rate while also feeding the strong appetite binge watchers have for bulk release drops. 
George Winslow

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.