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HOUSE OF CARDS is keeping Netflix on top

Posted on April 30th, 2013
Posted on April 30th, 2013

by Coop Cooper

Can a high-budget TV series produced exclusively for a streaming web service like Netflix become a huge success and a model for TV/internet entertainment to come? If the original web series “House of Cards” is any indication, we may be looking at the end of traditional TV as we know it.

Based on a popular British series, “Cards” stars Kevin Spacey as Francis “Frank” Underwood, a South Carolina Rep. and Majority Whip who is passed over for a promised Secretary of State appointment by a new president he helped get elected. Enraged, Underwood concocts a plan to manipulate and usurp power using an ambitious young reporter (Kate Mara) and a disgraced a freshman Congressman (Corey Stoll) to game the system. Meanwhile Underwood’s own environmental activist wife (Robin Wright) plays similar politics with her own non-profit organization, setting the stage for betrayal. This ruthless couple must come to terms with their relationship and their own humanity as they descend deeper and deeper into moral corruption to further their agendas.

Spacey chews the scenery as both star and narrator. While his SC accent sounds a bit exaggerated and phony, this is probably my favorite performance of his since “The Usual Suspects” in 1995. The impeccable plotting and writing are enhanced by the superior production values and near perfect supporting cast. If you weren’t jaded and suspicious of the dealings of U.S. Government already, this show will give you nightmares about what might really be going on behind the scenes up there in Washington.

As fantastic and addictive as the series turned out, it’s surprising to learn that Netflix bet the farm that it would. The company needed something exclusive to ensure members would stay with the service so they invested massive amounts of money to create a premium cable-quality episodic series (like on TV) that can only Netflix users can access. They took the experiment a step further by releasing all of the season’s episodes at once. They took it even further and made the series only available to stream online, excluding it from their DVD mailing service.

They decided to do this based on these facts…

  • One third of internet traffic at any given time is from users downloading or streaming movies.

  • Netflix, having 27 million U.S. subscribers (33 million worldwide) had enough viewers to risk a high profile exclusive series, especially since their market is now favoring downloads over DVDs. This includes 30 million “plays” per day of online shows and movies on their service.

  • Their rating system and other instant data-mining algorithms give them instant feedback showing what people want to see. That data showed that the “House of Cards” risk would more than likely pay off.

  • Attach a famous director (David Fincher) with an A-list cast to make a high quality series and people will watch the entire series in one sitting if it’s good enough. Neflix knows this because they have hard data that shows its members frequently watch multiple TV episodes in one sitting through their service.

The gamble seems to have paid off as Netflix execs claim the promise of future “House of Cards” episodes has slowed their membership cancellations to a crawl. Thus a new ‘internet TV originals’ market was launched as other streaming movie services scramble to analyze their extensive data and create original content. Consequently, the limited data mined from the old TV ‘Nielsen Ratings’ seems to have been proven obsolete overnight.

House of Cards” is so good, it would be a lock to win Emmy awards, that is if they decide to honor ‘web series’ for their next awards presentation. Netflix will eventually continue the show but they have also created a new horror series “Hemlock Grove” to begin streaming in April and has also ordered new episodes of the long-canceled cult hit series “Arrested Development.” If this model continues to be successful, we could see the complete integration of internet and television programing within the next few years.

House of Cards” rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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