Is There a "Best Time" to Release Streaming Content?

Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus. They’re all the same, aren’t they? One of the benefits of streaming services is that people have access to the same content at the same time. That, in and of itself, is also a drawback because the “same time” means it is indiscriminate on whether the consumer gets the episode at 3am local time, or a more manageable 7pm. There’s a clear winner in this scenario; the 3am person has to avoid spoilers for the whole day and can’t go on social media or, if the episode/movie is particularly discussed, must also avoid traditional forms of media.

The standard for streaming services now is to release things at 00:01 California Time (PST) on a Friday. It kind of makes sense: these media are made in Hollywood so they should release at the turn of the day as is in Hollywood. There is one slight exception and that is Apple TV, which chooses instead to release its shows at 00:01 New York Time (EST) on a Friday.

What we can get from this is a couple of things:

  1. Big content drops will be on a Friday, and

  2. Big content drops will be at 00:01 on that Friday.

British-only streaming services are a little bit more flexible; instead of operating as pure services, they’re more of an online-accessible on-demand service, so they often put episodes of shows on the services as soon as they’ve finished airing on the linear channel. This article is going to look at the big international players: Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and Apple TV+.

A brief lesson on timezones, there are a lot. 24, in fact; one for each hour of the day. When a service decides to drop a piece of content, they do so at a time that is optimal for their target audience, even if it means that the general audience suffers from potential neglect. We see it all the time with YouTube; when a content creator delivers a premiere, it’s done in a way to maximise that initial uptake because it’s likelier to generate a conversation and potentially give that person a big boost in subscribers/attention. The same principle applies here: the conversation is what’s really important. With services shifting to a weekly episode drop, having that boost of engagement at a specified time every week is a form of indirect marketing because it creates an expectation and anticipation for said piece of content.

But, this has come with certain pitfalls which I aim to undermine through my proposal: episodic/big content drops on Saturday at 00:01 London Time (GMT).

Pitfall 1: Spoiler Alert!

The hardest thing to avoid in the age we live in is spoilers. There are spoilers and leaks for anything that has even the slightest bit of hype online. Not to mention the discussion around the anticipation that these shows have built up lends itself to gloating/despair when the new episode confirms or contradicts your friend from America’s prediction. The midnight drop means that people who wake up can hardly scroll through their social media lest they be smacked in the face with the guest appearance of a Demogorgan on the latest episode of The Mandalorian.

Pitfall 2: Work/School/Hobby

Most people have some form of weekday activity either through their job, school or hobby, so even if an episode drops at 8:01am their time, they won’t have time to watch it before they have to go and do that thing. That thing, whatever it may be, usually lasts until the mid-afternoon, meaning that the earliest they can watch the episode or movie as the creator intended is at around 4pm.

Pitfall 3: It’s Unceremonial

The idea that episodes drop weekly now is done in order to eventise the streaming experience by giving a weeks’ buffer to stimulate the conversation. It makes little sense, therefore, that an episode drops at the crack of dawn on a Friday for people in the UK, who then have to wait another 9 hours to really be able to enjoy it with people with whom they want to watch it.

Fixing Pitfall 1

By shifting the release day to Saturday and making it at midnight in London, the audiences are split. Californian audiences get to watch it at 4pm Friday, making for good afternoon viewing; New York gets it at 7pm Friday, making good evening viewing; Brits can stay awake past midnight; people in Sydney get it as lunch-time viewing. Everyone in between London and Sydney can watch it as soon as they wake up. Saturday activities are usually mid-morning to mid-afternoon anyway, meaning it’s likely people won’t be on their devices in order to see spoilers.

Fixing Pitfall 2

Again, because the release day has shifted to a Saturday, it means people have either just finished their weekday activity for the week, or have begun their weekend meaning they can be slightly flexible with their timings; more-so than had the episodes dropped the day prior.

Fixing Pitfall 3

Being able to watch something with your family and friends is great. The midnight screening of Avengers: Endgame was unreal to me; so that idea of watching something at midnight with people, in the UK, is really part of our media culture. Whilst in the US the “graveyard slot” is any show that airs at late-night/primetime on a Friday, the UK uses that for a lot of its heavy-hitters like Gogglebox and the soaps (which, I know, sounds bad but they’re routinely in the highest viewed broadcasts of the week). The point here is that a British audience is accustomed to watching things late-ish on a Friday night with a takeaway, so watching the latest from their favourite streaming service at midnight shouldn’t be too much of a change to their habit because it enables the communal aspect of eventising that these services are aspiring for. In the US, not so much; but, in the UK, watching something on a Friday night is a sort of cultural cornerstone.

In the end, I think it’s clear that the Friday drop doesn’t work for everyone. But, a weekend drop makes it a lot more manageable. People want to be able to enjoy these pieces of content with their friends and family with the added preference of it not being spoiled just because they dared to look at social media, maybe even to invite said friends and family to watch it in the first place. I’d be happy with either a Saturday or Sunday drop, but I think that the Friday 00:01 PST drop just doesn’t work for everyone involved.

Do you agree or disagree? Should there be a different approach? Let me know what you think by commenting or by following me and Josh on Twitter: @StreamingBuffer and @JoshM_Jones respectively!

This article was borne from a thread by Anton Volkov (@antovolk), the mind behind @TrailerTrack, and you can see the thread below:

Clue 3: I’m so rich, I literally give myself away.

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