A new season of THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL dropped this weekend on Prime Video. For me and millions of other devotees that was big news, and you better believe I found time to watch it. For each of the show’s first three seasons, that devotion produced a dilemma of the proportion of the angst that drives the comedy and pathos of this show, which can best be described by the funnel cakes at Coney Island. (Spoiler alert: it’s a plot point in the fourth season opener). Do I just get a taste, and leave myself some room for something else, or do I give into temptation and stuff myself?
Prior to the sea change of 2020 streaming services, particularly Netflix and Prime Video, prided themselves on making all episodes of a show’s season available at once, almost always at 12:01 am on a Thursday. The publicity push was analogous to a theatrical release—blitz for the opening weekend, know that opening weekend will likely be the lion’s share of the initial revenue stream, grab as much zeitgeist as possible to extend the timeline as long as possible, and then the show fades into the portfolio.
MAISEL was one of the few appointment shows that my household cared enough to set our schedules around, It was often one of the few things I could look forward to when I came home. So for both entertainment and survival purposes my household would watch two or three episodes, wait a week or two for the next window without other pressing priorities, then watch one or two more. After about a month we’d find the time to barrel through the season. We’d long since had missed the FOMO window of social conversation. But in our bubble spreading it out served its purpose.
But as more services started up more choices and desirable shows arose. More platforms vied for share of culture wallet and attention. As the Plusses rolled out in 2020 with free trials, deep discounts and pandemic-infused time availability there was enough time for isolated influencers to binge-watch many episodes at a time across many of these platforms. For younger well-off viewers, their preference to having everything available at once was frequently cited as a driver for subscribing.
But as I’ve learned in both life and my career what we say we will do isn’t always what we do. Intent to view is a leading indicator in awareness studies. We’d frequently look to see if prior to a show’s premiere it was tracking above category norms, ideally in more desirable demographics. Only a fraction of those who say they will watch ever do, and of that fraction when they eventually do is now spread out over a wider time frame. Cumulative reach is the common metric of linear and streaming media, much as selling inventory in a store is conducted. Extending the freshness and shelf life of your product is the easiest way to maximize how much you sell. Only put a bit of your inventory out in front; keep the rest in storage until there’s true demand. And as noted in previous entries, keeping them in your store longer increases the chances you will sell other items and, more significantly, the other store won’t.
So, Season 4 of MAISEL opened with just two episodes this week and will release new episodes weekly through March. And even though my household and priorities have shifted, and there’s so much more to watch now, I did find a couple of free hours to watch, laugh and cry with characters I relate to and an era I remember. The fact that MAISEL is a period piece just entering the 60s dates me and also indicates that streamers need to tweak their drop models to find opportunities to grab different sectors when they present themselves. Thumbs up to Prime for realizing this.
And this is not an isolated incident. According to Parrot Analytics in 2021 more than 60% of the top 50 new digital series were released weekly or less frequently than a full season launch, what Alison Herman of The Ringer calls a demi-binge. It may be an anathema to chill, woke early adopters who scoff “no one I know wants to see shows that you can’t watch all at once’. That may be true for you, millennial sheep with a couch, Instacart and Weedmap, and that may be appropriate for your show, but as Meredith Gertner, a senior scheduling executive from HBO, noted in Herman’s article, ‘one size no longer fits all”. Proof: when Max released the Mindy Kaling comedy THE SEX LIVES OF COLLEGE GIRLS last fall it grew its audience 76 per cent from its first week of release to its last. Regardless of how small the baseline is, positive trajectory of any kind is rare these days and significant when it occurs.
Lest one think there isn’t a darker side to this loosening of over-saturation, consider this. The end of season 4 will dovetail with a price increase for a Prime subscription. Had something as popular as MAISEL not been in season when I got the official news of this increase this weekend I may have been more likely to say I can live without Prime Video. No chance now. My rationale as a satisfied fan who is all caught up is that the increase is less than 50 cents a week for a year. I’ll roll with it.
And in Amazon’s case there are other benefits with that subscription. I could always order some funnel cakes to munch on with later episodes and have them shipped for free.
Until next time….