By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Traditional TV networks are following Netflix Inc's <NFLX.O> lead by releasing all new episodes of a series at the same time, a step to win over binge viewers who do not want to wait a week for the next installment.
The move poses a direct challenge to Netflix and a way for more traditional networks to reach for younger, digital-savvy consumers who insist on watching on their own schedules.
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Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> network Freeform, which targets a younger audience, put the entire 10-episode season of new sci-fi drama "Beyond" on digital and on-demand platforms on Jan. 2, a first for the channel. By Jan. 10, it was ready to order a second season.
"There are moments when it's really hard to make a decision about a pickup," Freeform President Tom Ascheim said, announcing the renewal at a Television Critics Association event. "This is not one of those moments."
Roughly 14 million people watched "Beyond" on TV and online during the first week. About 745,000 have finished the season on various platforms, the network said.
In its earnings report this week, Netflix highlighted growing competition from rivals that are adopting the strategy. Britain's BBC, for example, announced earlier this month it would distribute full seasons of major series on its digital platform before the episodes run on traditional linear television.
"We presume HBO is not far behind the BBC," Netflix added. A spokesman for HBO, owned by Time Warner Inc <TWX.N>, had no comment.
"In short, it's becoming an internet TV world, which presents both challenges and opportunities for Netflix as we strive to earn screen time," Netflix said.
Netflix popularized binge viewing with the 2013 release of the entire season of "House of Cards." The company's monthly subscription service reached 94 million customers at the end of 2016, it said on Wednesday.
Comcast Corp's <CMCSA.O> NBC became the first U.S. broadcast network to try the release-at-once idea in 2015 when it put 13 episodes of drama "Aquarius" online right after the premiere aired on TV.
NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said shortly after the experiment that he would consider it again for the occasional show but it would not become standard practice.
The tactic is not popular with affiliate stations, Greenblatt said at the time.
But advertisers see some advantages to the release of entire seasons in one batch, said Andy Donchin, chief investment officer at Dentsu Aegis Network.
"If people want to binge view like that and they seek it out, they are probably highly engaged viewers," Donchin said. "If you’re engaged in the program, hopefully you’ll be just as engaged with the commercials."
Still there are tradeoffs, Wible said. When people are watching bingeable shows at their own pace, the shows miss out on the conversations that happen when a big plot development is watched by everyone at the same time, such as the famous "Red Wedding" episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones."
"You do lose out on the buzz," Wible said. "I think it takes longer to gain momentum."
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Tim Baysinger in New York; Editing by Peter Henderson and Lisa Shumaker)