For the last eight weeks, waking up on Friday morning has come with a gamble for many Star Wars fans: check Twitter to see the latest headlines or watch the new Mandalorian episode before anyone has a chance to spoil it?
This week’s episode of The Mandalorian is a perfect example. The second season finale includes some moments that Twitter’s trending tags and “news for you” curated topic sideline are already ruining. Without getting into spoiler territory here (and use this as a warning to stay away from Twitter if you haven’t seen the finale yet), one of the proposed solutions to this problem seems simple: release the episodes at a later time. Instead of dropping episodes at 3AM ET, why not pivot to 8 or 9PM ET, similar to how Game of Thrones used its 9PM slot on Sundays?
It’s complicated, and it’s important to remember the desire to change the time episodes drop is largely coming from a US audience. There are a couple of key factors to remember here that didn’t impact Game of Thrones quite as much:
- Disney Plus is a global streaming service that debuts its originals at the same time in every region
- The Mandalorian is a family show, enjoyed by young kids as well as adults
- Having episodes up early on Friday gives people the weekend to enjoy if they don’t care about spoilers
Game of Thrones didn’t run into many of these issues. HBO is still a primarily domestic service, with episodes airing in international territories through other carriers (like Sky in the UK) the next day. HBO can focus on its American audience because that’s where the majority of its customers are. Disney can’t. About 25 percent of Disney Plus’ overall subscriber base is signed up through Hotstar in India, and the company is rapidly rolling out the streamer to other big regions, like Latin America. While the US is still a major market, it’s not the sole area Disney has to focus on. And 9PM ET on Sunday is too late or too early for a number of other countries.
Unlike The Mandalorian, Game of Thrones also isn’t a family show. Sure, families could watch it together, but it’s likely not the type of series that parents are sitting down with their seven-year-old child to watch. The Mandalorian is a show that families with young kids watch together — Baby Yoda is more than just a plot device — and 9PM ET is too late. This came up in The Verge’s Slack today when I was complaining about waking up at 6:30AM to watch the episode before starting work, which requires Twitter. 9AM ET is great for the UK crowd (5PM their time), but it’s still early, and it’s even earlier for the West Coast of the US. While it seemed like 7 or 8PM ET would be a good compromise, that means it’s 4PM PT for the West Coast crowd (a little early on Friday) and midnight for people in the UK. Better, and one that I prefer, but not perfect.
Then there’s the most obvious point: not everyone who is watching The Mandalorian is starting their days with Twitter or Instagram or TikTok. They might not even see the spoilers — or they possibly don’t care. What a blissful life! For these Mandalorian fans, having the episode drop early on Friday gives them Friday evening and the entire weekend to watch whenever they want. This question — “What is the best time to release new Mandalorian episodes?” — doesn’t apply to them, really, because they’re not bothered by spoilers.
Is there a good time to release new Mandalorian episodes? Depending on who you ask and where they live, the answer varies — but the reason people are asking for episodes at a certain time doesn’t. Fans want that feeling of appointment viewing back. It’s a phrase that we last used with Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad before it. It’s the anticipation of a new episode (Mandalorian certainly has that) and making sure you’re situated in front a TV or laptop or phone right when the episode begins.
By the time the episode ends, Twitter is full of jokes and gasps depending on what played out over the last few minutes. Friends who have gotten together for watch parties are bouncing. Memes start spreading. Watching a big show feels more like a communal affair than a solitary activity — something we really needed this year. People want The Mandalorian earlier or later because they want to experience it with the world.
The Mandalorian is the biggest TV event of the year. It’s the thing that rolls around every Friday and we bemoan our friends to hurry up and finish watching because we want to talk about it. People are waking up at different times, they’re busy with kids in the morning, or have any number of other priorities that mean they can’t sit down and watch The Mandalorian at 6 or 7 in the morning.
It’s nearly impossible to find a perfect time that works for everyone, so releasing episodes at midnight PT does make the most sense, especially in a streaming-dominant world where preference and choice define the watching experience. It just sucks that an event-type show as big as Mandalorian can’t really ever create the same beautiful, appointment TV, communal viewing experience that Game of Thrones provided. I predict it’s an issue we’ll see grow as the major streamers expand globally. Think Mandalorian and Stranger Things, but again and again.