The past few years have seen TV habits flipped on their heads with a mid-2010s surge of streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV+ premiering. The decision to make many series on these platforms available all at once has been the biggest change in how we consume TV; where once audiences had to wait weeks to see a story evolve and play out, we are now presented with the option to consume a series in one go. Even platforms like BBC iPlayer have adapted to allow viewers to watch series all in one go with shows such as Killing Eve, Motherland and Normal People.
During the past year especially, TV has been a huge source of comfort for many, with audiences turning to binge-watching en masse devouring new and old favourites. Killing Eve spearheaded record iPlayer numbers upon its release last May with the third series proving its most successful yet, while the continued appeal of Marianne and Connell from Normal People is still clearly apparent. This proved to be a record breaking period for the platform at the same time Disney was releasing its content on a weekly basis, perhaps offering the first sign that there is a future for the two methods to exist harmoniously.
The BBC’s Approach
Though the binge method has proven successful for BBC iPlayer, there have also been signs that the weekly TV release format continues to have a place in the hearts of the British public, with shows like Sherlock, Peaky Blinders and Line Of Duty proving to be consistent hits with ratings remaining consistently high.
In the case of Line Of Duty, each series has grown to the point that the finale of the recently concluded sixth series was the most watched British drama in twenty years, when Heartbeat drew an audience of 13.1 million. The growth in Line Of Duty’s viewing figures is remarkable given that only 2.74 million people tuned in for the series two opener, which, like Peaky Blinders, made the switch from BBC Two to BBC One.
Prior to the recent success of Line Of Duty, Jed Mercurio’s other massive word-of-mouth hit was 2018’s Bodyguard, starring Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes. At the point of airing, this had been the UK’s most successful drama in a decade with 10.4 million viewers watching the finale at the time of broadcast, and eventual viewing numbers well in excess of 15 million, factoring in iPlayer.
Of course, weekly success is not isolated to dramas, with the Great British Bake Off being a huge hit for both the BBC and Channel Four since its first series in 2010. However, it is dramas that have shown the biggest shift in recent years towards an apparent resurgence in weekly viewing habits.
Disney & Other International Services
The leading factor that appears to have seen a shift back to weekly viewing is the launch of Disney+ in November 2019. Since its launch, the platform has made the vast majority of its original content available via weekly release. This was of course spearheaded by the first Star Wars live-action TV series, The Mandalorian, with both of its series to date proving huge successes and earning the franchise some of its best reviews since its acquisition by Disney. Marvel has replicated the weekly formula for its two series to date, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with both proving huge hits for the platform and setting a precedent – the upcoming Loki is set to employ the weekly formula also.
While it is true that streaming titans have dominated the TV market for almost a decade now, it is not necessarily true that all the largest shows are exclusively found on streaming platforms. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have shown that a show can dominate conversation without either being found on Netflix or being dumped at once. The majority of Hulu and Sky Atlantic’s most successful original programmes continue to be released on a weekly basis, including the acclaimed satire Succession, dystopian hit Westworld, and the Kate Winslet-led Mare of Easttown, which is currently winning some rapturous reviews.
While the logical conclusion over the past few years has been that weekly TV is on the wane, and can’t compete with the flexibility and ease of having a series drop all at once, the gargantuan success of several series of late suggests that the popularity of weekly viewing remains high, with platforms like Disney+ offering a clear alternative to the services offered by Netflix and Amazon Prime.
With Disney+ very committed to releasing its content weekly, we can expect upcoming Marvel projects such as Hawkeye and Ms Marvel to continue this trend, along with Star Wars series Andor and Kenobi. It also seems likely that the final series of Peaky Blinders will prove to be a big hit for the BBC, and should Line of Duty return for a seventh run, it seems increasingly likely that we can expect more weekly record viewing figures for AC-12.
Words by Chris Connor
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