Illustration | Emily Fu

Riverdale and Stranger Things: differences in viewing trends

October saw the return of two popular television series on Netflix: Stranger Things and Riverdale. While they share a streaming platform, the shows are released in different manners that may influence the viewer’s relationship with the series.

Stranger Things, like many other Netflix originals, is released one season at a time. Having a whole season available at once allows the audience to choose how they would prefer to consume their television, but this method often facilitates binge-watching. According to the chief content officer of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, people’s viewing habits have changed and the company is trying to accommodate that. He explains that people no longer watch shows on a weekly schedule and instead, opt to commit themselves to one season or series at a time until they finish watching it. This, however, is not necessarily the case for everyone. For instance, episodes of Riverdale are released weekly and the show still has a strong following. There are pros and cons to both viewing styles.

Television shows with seasons that are released all at once, such as Stranger Things, are appealing because they appease this new desire for instant gratification. Viewers know that the need to have the answer to a question sparked by an episode’s cliffhanger can be immediately satisfied—all they have to do is press play on the next episode to find out what happens to their favourite character. Another benefit of binge-watching is that it decreases the chance that people will forget what happened earlier on in the season, because they are consuming the show so quickly. They do not have to wait a week until the next episode airs. However, the faster they finish the series, the longer they have to wait for the next season to come out. The hype, therefore, reaches a climax around the show’s release, then collapses midway through the year because people aren’t being exposed to it on a regular basis. 

Shows that are released periodically, however, sustain the suspense over a longer timeframe. This schedule gives the viewer time to consider the story and contemplate their own theories about where the plot is headed. Riverdale sets up a murder mystery in episode one and the audience can’t help but speculate who the culprit is until it’s revealed in the season finale, with all the loose ends tied up. The time in between episodes lets the tension galvanize and promotes discussion. For example, there are many detailed theories roaming around the internet about the identity of The Black Hood from Riverdale, and fans will argue their opinions until  the character’s identity is confirmed. This gives the viewers time to appreciate each episode for what it is and encourages them to analyze, deepening their understanding. Additionally, the wait time between seasons is shorter than a Netflix Original because they don’t have to finish filming all the episodes before each release date. While the anticipation may not be as strong because it’s always around, the dialogue about it does not have much time to die down.

Even if a show is released weekly, the viewer can choose to wait until the season is complete to binge-watch it. On the flip side, if a show is released all at once, a person can decide to watch it at a moderate pace. People who view shows the minute they are released may be disappointed to hear that their friend only watched one episode because they were boggled down with work and had to avoid social media for spoilers. They might feel peer-pressured to finish the show as soon as possible to keep up with the conversation. This can easily turn into a competition to see who completes the show the fastest.

Being busy is not the only reason someone may choose to pace themselves when watching TV. They may want to savour the show because they know it’s going to be a long time until new episodes are going to be released. This way, they can appreciate the episodes singularly and experience the show more regularly.

As for what the method of release does to the viewers’ relationships with the characters, both techniques are adequate. Binge-watching immerses the viewer in the world of a show, and removes them from reality: this can strengthen a viewer’s emotions toward the cast because it’s all they’re exposed to for a long period of time. With that said, a good script and cast can make you feel attached to the characters right from the start. If both Riverdale and Stranger Things didn’t create dynamic and endearing characters from episode one, people may not have stuck around for episode two.