Looking to catch up to a serialized drama like Breaking Bad before the new season starts next month? Well, you can stream seasons 1-3 on Netflix, but you’ll have to buy season 4 on disc or through iTunes. We’ll examine a savvy digital distribution strategy.


For the last two weeks, I’ve been what Netflix likes to describe as a binge viewer, watching two, sometimes three episodes a night of the acclaimed AMC adult drama Breaking Bad.

But now that I’m completely hooked, I’ve got a little consumer decision to make. I’m almost finished with season 3, and a fresh set of season 5 episodes is set to premiere on AMC July 15. But Netflix doesn’t yet have streaming rights to season 4 of the Sony Pictures Television-produced show.

So if I truly want to catch up on high school chemistry teacher Walter White’s evolution into a Southwestern drug kingpin before the new season starts, I’ll have to either buy or rent the season 4 DVD or Blu-ray set, or make a transactional streaming or download purchase through Amazon Instant Video or Apple’s iTunes store.

Update: I also have the option of putting my DirecTV service back to good use — AMC is running up to three archival episodes of Breaking Bad in the wee hours each morning in the run-up to the new season. Luckily, season 4 starts unspooling Saturday morning.

Failing all of this, of course, the less ethically minded might consider torrenting.

Also read: Netflix CFO: Really, we didn’t kill Spongebob’s ratings!

According to a Netflix representative I spoke to Thursday, the service typically gets access to the most recent archival season of a show once the new season starts up on its respective broadcast or cable network.

That doesn’t help me if I want to be up to date with Breaking Bad come July 15.

So is this some brilliant strategy on the behalf of program suppliers? With Netflix executives saying that their streaming service is being increasingly used by new viewers of AMC’s serialized shows like Mad Men, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad to ramp up to the current season, why not steer some of that action to transactional VOD, linear TV and disc purchasing?

Not only do the content licensees collect subscription VOD revenue from Netflix, they actually drive their transactional businesses.

According to Sanford Bernstein senior analyst Todd Juenger, however, that is only a secondary motivation for this release strategy.

Also read: Why Netflix can still win

“I think the notion of compelling people to go buy the DVD sets, or digital copes of recents seasons, is secondary to protecting the first-run window on traditional TV,” Juenger wrote in an email to paidContent Thursday. “Content owners want to make the delay long enough such that people aren’t tempted to abandon watching on traditional TV and ‘just wait for it to come on Netflix.”

Meanwhile, a major studio home entertainment executive told us that since each show is negotiated for individually, “it’s hard to peg one methodology.”

Still, he added, “We do everything possible to ensure that we are having the best impact with the each of our properties in each of the windows. Putting a new show on streaming just doesn’t make business sense at this time.”

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

You're subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. Is Breaking Bad Season 4 repeating on AMC? Because that would be another way to watch it – and that’s what Juenger’s really referring to. Sons of Anarchy does the same thing – you can’t even buy the previous season on DVD until the week before the new season airs, thus ensuring people watch repeats on air.

    1. Daniel Frankel sam Friday, June 22, 2012

      I thought of this option and dismissed it … but shouldn’t have. I thought the timing of AMC’s linear play would not match up with my demand. But it turns out that the network will begin showing 1-3 episodes from season 4 per morning starting in the wee hours Saturday. Updated the article.

  2. Other then the news and sports, who cares when you watch the current season. Season 5 of Breaking Bad will be just as compelling a year from now as it is today. There are so many serialized dramas available for streaming now you can easily bounce from one show to another why you wait for new seasons to be added from each show. Only HBO Go provides a similar experience.

  3. We’re in a similar situation with Dr. Who. We “binged” over the course of a few months on the WHOLE NEW SERIES via Netflix until we got to the – we’d be happy to subscribe to the new series via Apple or Amazon or really anyone who’d sell us a new season pass, but I see the guy’s point – the “traditional” TV window still seems to make more $ than the VOD window, and nobody in the business wants to really test the idea of concurrent TV Window/Paid VOD for programming (think HBO/Game of Thrones dust-up) because it might prove that there’s a real market for buying shows the way you buy apps and games – which would kill the golden advertising goose that funds the production.

    In my opinion? The people who are watching TV “as it happens” or even via DVR aren’t the same people as the people like me for whom media is a selected, scheduled activity (I actually say to my wife, “would you like to consume some video media tomorrow night?” for the 2 or 3 nights a week where we watch a TV show. For me (and apparently the author of this post) the way we consume media is nothing like the way distribution needs it to be, but I do think that the distributors need to figure out how to make money with customers like us – we don’t want networks, or bundles – we want shows. Specific shows, as they are available and we’re willing to pay for them.

  4. Just watch Season 4 on AMC. They have been replaying every episode starting with the pilot late nights beginning around 2am for the past couple weeks. They replay 2 to 4 episodes each night and season 4 starts tonight!

  5. Or you could find an actual brick-and-mortar video rental store and ask if they have the discs for rent (if there are any rental stores left in your area, of course). Or you could see if your local library has the discs and watch it for free. Or you could even temporarily sign up for Netflix’s DVD service and rent the discs from them – probably for less than you’d pay to rent or buy them from Amazon or iTunes. You could even DVR the new episodes and wait to watch them until you’d caught up via Netflix streaming.

    That’s four options that don’t force you to buy anything!

  6. Greg Dean Schmitz Friday, June 22, 2012

    What’s the catch ? Netflix has season 4 of Breaking Bad. On disc. I think it’s a bit much to expect full service on all titles from only half their plan ?

    1. I’m on their 4 DVD plan. Season 4 of Breaking Bad has been on Very Long Wait since the DVDs were released. I’ve been waiting months for them to be sent, but no such luck.

  7. Will Stewart Friday, June 22, 2012

    Daniel, search on Breaking Bad on your TV provider’s guide … AMC is currently rerunning the whole series, 2-3 episodes a night, starting after midnight. I think season 4 starts this Saturday (look for episode 34).

    1. Right you are, Will. See response above. I’ve updated the post with this, btw.

  8. But if I’m not caught up on the last season, I am less likely to watch the new episodes live on AMC.

    I discovered Breaking Bad on Netflix, and would now watch season 5 on AMC, if I had watched season 4. But I’m absolutely not going to watch season 5 live without having seen season 4.

  9. You can get the Season 4 set from the library for free.

  10. Well, that’s why you use dvr, record season 5 and continue to watch episodes of season 4 on Netflix, then go back and watch the recorded episode on ur dvr,

Comments have been disabled for this post