WandaVision: Disney+'s Midnight Streaming Releases Are Bad For Everyone

Opinion: Disney+'s midnight streaming releases fragment the audience and rob fans of a communal experience.

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Like The Mandalorian Season 2 before it, WandaVision should be "event television"--a show that everyone you know, in person and on social media, is watching at the same time, creating a communal viewing experience. But by pointlessly adhering to the totally arbitrary "midnight release" practice that's become standard across the streaming landscape, Disney does its fans a disservice. Fans who want to keep up with WandaVision need to stay up into the early hours of the morning every Thursday night, or risk being spoiled the following day until they're able to actually sit down and watch each new episode. Meanwhile, fans who do stay up late to catch each episode have to carefully tiptoe around discussions for days afterward to avoid spoiling it for others. Everyone is robbed of the social experience that a show like WandaVision should embody.

Of course, this isn't only a Disney+ problem. But it's a worse problem for Disney than it is for competitors. Yes, Netflix tends to drop entire seasons at midnight. But when new episodes of a Netflix show like Cobra Kai Season 3 arrive, the conversation is only temporarily staggered; since all the episodes drop at once, it's understood that everyone will eventually catch up, and after a few days or a week, the statute on spoilers relaxes. On the other hand, big Disney+ shows have so far stuck to a traditional week-to-week release schedule, exacerbating the problem by drawing it out over weeks and months. Friday after Friday, fans find themselves out of sync with their peers.

Meanwhile, other streaming platforms suffer from the exact same issue. Amazon, for example, dropped each episode of The Boys Season 2 at midnight Pacific time, and released them week-to-week just like Disney does. That was bad enough; all streaming platforms should reconsider this practice. But "event television" shows on most other streaming platforms are relatively infrequent--largely thanks to Disney's complete control of some of the world's biggest franchises. The problem is worse on Disney+ because in all likelihood, this is now more or less going to be a permanent fixture in fans' weeks.

Just look at the slate of Marvel and Star Wars shows expected to hit Disney+ in 2021: After WandaVision ends in March, fans get a brief reprieve until The Falcon and The Winter Soldier begins. After that, we'll get Loki in May, "What If….?" over the summer, and Ms. Marvel after that. On the Star Wars side, Disney is projecting both The Bad Batch and The Book of Boba Fett for this year. It's safe to bet there will be a Star Wars or a Marvel show airing Thursday nights at midnight for the rest of the year, with very few breaks--and that's just what's been announced so far.

In other words, this is your new reality. As a diehard fan of the stuff Disney owns, you either stay up until 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning--in the US, at least--or you risk being spoiled about the shows you care about as time ticks slowly by at school or work the next day. And even if you do stay up late to watch Disney's shows, the experience of gleefully sharing your fresh thoughts on this week's episode with your friends or on Twitter will be forever stymied.

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Throughout history, shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks, and countless others became social events, either virtually or in-person with viewing parties, when they aired, often on Sunday evenings when the biggest number of fans would be free to watch them. Disney+ and other streaming services could easily consider the same factors; in fact, Game of Thrones is a great example, because HBO did exactly that--the show aired on HBO's cable channel and released simultaneously on its streaming app Sunday evenings.

The current standard of the midnight Pacific streaming release--which is 3AM for those on the U.S.'s east coast, and the start of the work day across Europe and the UK--benefits no one. This isn't only a Disney+ problem, but it's a problem that Disney, industry leader that it is, could help begin to solve if it would only start releasing new episodes of its biggest shows at a reasonable hour. Until then, whether you're staying up late or trying your best to avoid spoilers the following day, you'll be treading lightly almost every single week.

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