How Many Episodes Should a Series Launch with?

A director friend called to tell me about a new web series he’s working on. We were chatting when he asked “How many episodes should I launch with?” Hmmm… That’s an interesting question. The web is so much more flexible than oldteevee, you could release as few or as many at a time as you like.

How many you kick the series off with probably depends on the type of content you are creating. If it’s a sketch comedy series, you could release one and then wait either another day or week before releasing the second, since each bit would standalone (and hopefully go viral).

But what do you do if you’re trying to tell a story?

Sci-Fi, drama, even sitcoms are based on character development and plot — not jokes. When you’re telling stories in 2 to 5 minute increments, it’s hard to provide enough elements to get people hooked with just one episode. So how many episodes is ideal to get viewers to keep coming back?

I asked Jane Hu of Tornante/Vuguru her thoughts on the subject. Below is her lightly-edited response via email:

“I think it ultimately depends on the type of content. In general, launching with multiple episodes allows people to get more invested in the show early on. For example, The All-For-Nots launched with three episodes (and continue to release three at a time each week). For our mysteries where episodes end in a cliffhanger (Prom Queen, etc.), I think the cliffhanger produces an additional incentive to come back to the show, so launching with multiple episodes becomes less important.”

Other producers have told me that it also depends on how many episodes your series is. If you only have six or so, they thought it would be a good idea to launch them all at once.

But what do you think? Understanding the variables we just discussed, as a viewer, how many episodes do you generally need to really get into a show? As a creator, what’s the best way to keep the audience engaged? And if you’re a business person, how much do you want to string them out to maximize your advertising/sponsorship potential?

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