Photo via mxmstryo/Flickr BY CC 2.0.

What is stacking, and how will it change the way we binge-watch?

Binge-watching is no longer limited to Netflix.

Feb 29, 2020, 9:49 am*



Amrita Khalid

Binge-watching is about to take over your life even more thoroughly than it already has.

A new study revealed this week that almost three quarters of American viewers binge-watch TV already. But ABC and Warner Bros. Television just struck a historic stacking deal that will allow viewers to stream future seasons of Warner Bros. series that air on ABC in full. But what exactly is stacking? The term explains why you can watch an entire season of Netflix Original series like House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black but won’t be able to rewatch every episode after this season’s finale of The Bachelor airs on television. The ABC and Warner Bros. deal might be a sign of good things to come.  

We can thank DVDs, and then Netflix, for making the act of watching multiple episodes or entire seasons of television in one marathon session the phenomenon it is. But until recently, binge-watching entire current seasons of your favorite network television shows was impossible. Network studios have struggled to offer full seasons of their current offerings on-demand or through streaming services like Hulu. 

Instead, network television is subject to the much-maligned “five most recent episodes” rule on streaming services. If you’ve picked up a show late in the game or gone on a very long vacation or just wanted to rewatch that one scene in the third episode that is so pivotal to the finale, you’re likely not a fan of the binge-watching embargo that makes only the five most recent episodes of most in-season shows available to watch online.

And for that, we have Hulu and Netflix to thank. Network shows that are stacked are worth less to Netflix and Hulu, writes Decider:

“Until recently, many shows haven’t been stacked because that makes the series less valuable to sell on Blu-ray and to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Only the most recent episodes of American Crime are available on demand and on ABC’s website. If you aren’t watching it yet, well too bad. You can watch it next year on Netflix or Hulu or whoever buys the off-network rights.” 

Netflix pays a pretty penny to buy the full episodes of top shows—around $750,000 per episode according to Vulture. It can be the difference between a show breaking even or turning a profit. Shows that are stacked are no longer exclusive to Netflix and less attractive to subscribers. Why subscribe to Netflix to watch Mad Men and Breaking Bad when you could watch the entire season for free somewhere else?

Meanwhile, giving viewers an incentive to tune in every Sunday night is valuable for advertisers. As more and more people stream episodes on their own time, weekly viewership metrics suffer. But network television studios are recognizing the value of adapting to the TV viewing habits of a younger generation as well as fandoms. 

Their solution might be to cut out the middleman entirely, writes Decider:

NBCUniversal launched its Seeso comedy streaming network earlier this year and has said it is developing as many as six additional streaming services. Turner Broadcasting is planning to launch at least two streaming services before the end of the year. And Disney, which owns ABC, launched its DisneyLife streaming service last year in the U.K.

If binge-watching is here to stay, stacking rights for many of our favorite television shows may be in the near future. 

Photo via mxmstryo/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Share this article
*First Published: Mar 23, 2016, 1:00 pm