Like with season 19, Channel 5 have decided to spread season 20 over the remainder of this year and the first half of next. And, like last time, fans are pretty miffed about. I... don't really share that sentiment. Not any more, at least.
First off, let's get this out of the way: season 19's scheduling was a total shambles. With only four new episodes airing in the first week, only three festive episodes airing in January (rather than around Christmas as we'd reasonably expect) and two episodes (Wild Water Rescue and Diesel's Ghostly Christmas) still waiting to air (to the point where they'll end up being released on DVD before airing, which I doubt was the intention), it's been a total mess from the get go. It hasn't helped that every episode was aired and posted online by the end of 2015 by Japanese YouTube users - even the extra five that are meant to be DVD exclusive.
All that said, the idea of special "Thomas Weeks" where new episodes are slated to air isn't a bad one. It keeps the interest in the season relatively high for a longer period (rather than splurging out every non-festive, non-DVD exclusive episode in one go), and it keeps us wanting more.
It's a much better idea than one that was employed in the 80s and 90s for seasons 1-4, where you had to wait a week - or even months - for just one episode. And this was when it was on CITV, probably one of the best children's blocks British TV had.
However, it's the execution that many fans (myself included; I wrote a post a year ago criticising the decision) have an issue with. It's not exactly the fault of broadcasters or production companies, but the internet has made the hunt for new episodes easier than ever. As soon as one is released on DVD or on another network around the world, it's online shortly after. Heck, Crunchyroll's anime streaming service offers the subbed versions of brand new anime hours after they've aired in Japan so that no one gets left behind (this isn't sponsored, by the way).
And that's where things falter for TV channels: without the internet, there'd be no complaints about these things as they'd have monopoly over our visual entertainment. But with YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services, the whole scheduling system that broadcasters still rely on is outdated. Well, it's outdated in multiple ways, but this is another highlight as to why.
Season 18 was literally splurged on TV (except the festive episodes), but it was the most suitable way to go about it as it meant that Channel 5 were ahead of the game for the majority of the series, and waiting for those festive episodes didn't feel as much like a chore as... well, you'd expect them to air the festive episodes then. And it's only 4 episodes to wait for, so it's not that much of an issue.
I didn't expect to turn this into another post about why the scheduling sucks, to be honest. But at least now it's been done in a more thoughtful way than just saying "Viacom sucks". To sum up, they have a really good idea with their scheduling, and had they done this 10 years ago, it would've been a great way to spread the series out and keep excitement up. But in this day and age, it's not working. Broadcasters need to be ahead of the game as much as possible (which Channel 5 has been in the past), but when they have these specific weeks over 12 months, it leaves them far behind and fans feeling frustrated to the point where they look for the newest episodes elsewhere.