Disney Plus Quietly Ended National Geographic In-Season Episode Batches, Furthering Content Issues [First Report]

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As you all know, tracking library content and licensing is one of our specialties. We even have a unqiue Library Progress page where you can follow along with us as episodes and specials to release pile up. Ever since January, Disney+ communications have provided incomplete and unreliable “coming to Disney+ next month” lists and we had to abandon our flagship library breakdown articles. As a result, we’ve had a harder time following everything they’ve added and noticing patterns. Yesterday, while sifting through what little content makes up the “Disney+ May 2022” list, we noted something startling.

Disney+ is no longer adding National Geographic show episodes in batches. Once this realization had been made, we went through the past 6 month’s content and confirmed that the 10 episodes of Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks (Season 8) that arrived December 8th were the final in-season episode batch. Ever since, Disney has exclusively been adding full, completely aired seasons. In other words, they reverted back to the initial strategy from launch.

Fun fact: Disney never completed that season of Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks. The last 8 episodes appear to be lost in Disney’s inconsistent distribution / licensing mess. They removed them from NatGeoTV.com and put up the standard format message they use: “Watch 8 previous seasons now streaming on Disney+.” We are fairly certain that Disney has no clue they left the season incomplete and that the last 8 episodes got lost in the ether. (We suggest you notify them at help.disneyplus.com -> “Live Chat,” ask them to escalate this.)

NatGeoTV.com thinks Disney+ has all 8 seasons and stopped streaming the missing episodes.

The End Of Episode Batches?

After only half a year of the episode batch distribution strategy, the Nat Geo and Nat Geo Wild TV brands reverted to the old-fashioned model. We mentioned via Twitter in March that that the Nat Geo library was falling further behind than it had in a long time. We were confused about Nat Geo’s top series all airing episodes at the same time with no updates to Disney+. We hadn’t made the connection that the last in-season episode batch was Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks (Season 8) on December 8, 2021.

This is quite disappointing. Worth noting is the fact that Disney Branded TV has not abandoned the in-season episode batches. It makes a bit of sense why Nat Geo has and Disney Channel / Junior have not. Nat Geo seasons rarely last beyond 15 episodes and episodes air without hiatus. 8-15 straight weeks of a series, then it’s done. If Disney Channel was still waiting until a series aired its full season there would be plenty of angry Owl House and Ghost and Molly McGee fans. Disney Channel / Junior shows usually take a full year or more to cycle through their 20-30 episodes.

Fans of Dr. Pol have been waiting a lot longer to get season 20 episodes than they did for seasons 18 and 19… They remain NatGeoTV.com exclusive.

Why Has Nat Geo Ended Episode Batches?

The best reason we can deduce is that television ratings dropped considerably since this new strategy and Disney wanted to fix it. Another possible explanation is that, for whatever reason, Nat Geo has asked Disney Plus to return the exclusivity window for their shows until the seasons air. We’ve reached out to Nat Geo and Disney for comment, if anyone responds we’ll edit it in.

What Big Shows Are Behind

Using our Nat Geo Library Progress page, now updated with the May additions, it paints a gloomy picture for Nat Geo fans on Disney+. Major hit series have aired full seasons, and whereas last year these same exact shows were receiving updates every 5 episodes or so, now fans must wait until the full seasons air, As you can see, even multiple months after. We’re back to 2019.

  • Wicked Tuna — Season 11: 8 episodes aired
  • Life Below Zero: Next Generation — Season 4: 14 episodes aired (Season finale aired April 19, Season 3 no-showed in November with an additional 10 missing episodes)
  • Port Protection: Alaska — Season 5: 13 episodes aired (Season finale aired April 12)
  • Wizard of PAWS — Season 2: 10 episodes aired (Season finale aired March 30)
  • The Incredible Dr. Pol — Season 20: 12 episodes aired (Season finale aired March 19)
  • Life Below Zero — Season 18: 10 episodes aired (Season finale aired January 11)

We’re disappointed that Disney+ continues to find ways to step backwards instead of forwards. We’re nearing the mid-point of year 3 of Disney+ and they still haven’t found a way to create a universal and consistent release strategy for their shows. All the insiders we’ve spoken to agree that the correct answer is (and always has been) episodes appearing the day after they air. It’s bewildering that Disney owns Hulu, but can’t understand one of the primary reasons Hulu succeed was because people could rely on their favorite tv shows appearing consistently.

Fortunately, this could finally be set to change as we’ve theorized that the ad-tier Disney launches later this year will bring with it next-day episodes. It’s long been our thought that their licensing deals with television providers might require any next-day releases to have the possibility of showing advertisements.

The Only Exception

There is one strange exception to this otherwise regression. In March, Disney released the entire 3rd season of Critter Fixers a few days after the first episode premiered. With no promotion via the April content list or video, they are going to drop the upcoming 4th season of Heartland Docs, DVM April 27th, merely 4 days after its season premiere. This “watch on Disney+ first” thing is peculiar and can only harm the shows’ linear performance. It’s not really the “benefit” they seem to think it is.

Either make the series a Disney+ Original and binge drop the season, release the episodes after they air on TV like a normal service, or brand this “feature” “Watch First” or something clever. 3 years into Disney+, they still appear to be experimenting with no sense of direction and the subscribers we’ve spoken to are tired. We want a streaming service, not a 5-year beta.

There is one strange exception to this otherwise regression. Every month this year, Disney+ has released one entire season of a Nat Geo series, immediately after that series premiers its first episode. This was seen with Critter Fixers season 3 in March and on April 27th, they plan to drop the upcoming 4th season of Heartland Docs, DVM, merely 4 days after its season premiere. This is peculiar and can only harm the shows’ linear performance. It’s not really the “benefit” they seem to think it is. Either make the series a Disney+ Original and binge drop the season or release the episodes after they air on TV. 3 years into Disney+, they still appear to be experimenting with no sense of direction.

Easier Promotion

It’s also flabbergasting that Disney does not seem to understand how much better and easier their marketing would be if they could feature a logo of Disney+ on all the Nat Geo or Disney Channel show television commercials and posters with a message like the ones that have appeared for years with ABC, FX, and Freeform shows. “Next day on Disney+.” Imagine if the TV commercials on Nat Geo shows said “and stream next day on Disney+.” Every commercial would be a reminder the service exists and why it is valuable.

A recent ad for Critter Fixers on Nat Geo did acknowledge Disney+! The ending says “Catch up on past seasons Disney+.” This should be a requirement / standardized across all series that Disney+ streams. Common sense.

Until Disney figures it out, we’ll continue to keep an eye out for any changes and encourage you to keep an eye on our Nat Geo Library Progress page to see just how far behind we fall.

Drew Ryan is a film, TV, and Disney geek. He has degrees in English, Student Personnel Administration, and Library & Information Science from Lawrence University, Concordia University-Wisconsin, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Interested in the minutia and licensing of streaming service content, he is always publishing lists, suggestions, and advocating for Disney’s missing library to be added to Disney+. Drew subscribes to Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, and Paramount+. You can find him waxing nostalgic over classic Disney Channel or geeking out over Marvel, CW shows, & Disney on Twitter.