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Eric Liebowitz/Netflix
Sometimes, less is more.
BITE-SIZED BINGING

Netflix is making it easier to binge watch its original series

By Ashley Rodriguez

When Arrested Development and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt return to Netflix this week, audiences will only get tastes of their new seasons. Half the episodes will hit Netflix on May 29 and May 30, respectively, and the rest will roll out later this year.

Netflix, which turned binge-watching into a lifestyle when it started dropping series in full-season chunks, has been mixing up its release schedules as it pumps out more original productions. It expects to release 470 more original TV shows, movies, and other productions around the world before the end of this year alone.

The streaming service toyed with near-daily release schedules with talk shows such as Chelsea, weekly releases with The Joel McHale Show, and monthly models with shows like My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman. Lately, it’s been splitting up popular sitcoms like The Ranch, Fuller House, and now Arrested Development and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt into half seasons.

Netflix has an audience of binge-watchers, but it’s also found that viewers watch smart, popular comedies like GLOW and Dear White People in shorter spurts than some of its other programming, like sci-fi shows. Breaking seasons up may make the content a little easier for viewers to digest. If given the option, many fans (this reporter included) may watch all the episodes of a new season in a few sittings. But with new programming hitting Netflix weekly, if not daily, on top of the onslaught of content from other TV networks and streaming services, it can get a little overwhelming. It’s easy to miss new releases, or fall so far behind in a series that viewers won’t bother trying to catch up.

For Netflix, releasing half seasons may also extend the lifespan of its series so that its catalog never feels stale. That’s crucial for the subscription service, which needs to entice members back to its platform month after month, despite the deluge of other streaming and TV options available to them. Subscriber growth is the most important metric to Netflix investors, and a dip could send one of the world’s most valuable media stocksrivaling Disney—tumbling.

Splitting new seasons of shows also presents two opportunities for the streaming service to push the new episodes to its 125 million members around the world. The company said it plans to boost its marketing budget (pdf) by about 50% in 2018, to $2 billion, to get the right programming in front of the right viewers around the world.

A strong first part of a season could build enough buzz that Netflix doesn’t have to spend as much to promote the second half. “We want to get people talking about those titles amongst their friends so that you get those social dynamics which then help us grow,” CEO Reed Hastings said in a January conference call.

To be sure, there are other reasons for Netflix to break up seasons as well. With The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s hip-hop musical, Netflix and producer Sony Pictures TV reportedly wanted to “get something on the air” after a grueling two and a half years of production. It’s possible there was a similar case with Arrested Development. It’s coming out just in time to qualify for the 2018 Emmy Awards race.

As a streaming service, Netflix has a lot more flexibility to experiment with release schedules than traditional TV networks, which try to get viewers concentrated in a certain time and place to attract top dollar from advertisers. Netflix just needs to make it easier for audiences to watch on their own time.