The thing about making television programs is, the folks who don’t do it always think it’s easy. After all, Seinfeld was nothing more than an NYC apartment set, some writers, and a few unknown actors. Of course, given the number of failed sitcoms, we know its a bit harder than that.
Which is why Netflixs’ decision to get into original production is brave, risky, and had a very strong likelihood of a disastrous end. After all, HBO has had its share of hits and misses, and it’s been at original series production for a very long time.
Then Netflix looks down the road, and sees a potential risk ahead as content owners increase the fees to Netflix, or worse yet, decide to withdraw their content from the Netflix platform. So Netflix CEO Reed Hastings makes the smart decision, and decides to begin to invest in their own original programming. And invest he did. He agreed to fund 26 episodes (two full seasons) of House of Cards for a reported price tag for a staggering $100 million dollars.
So, as a first outing, they did a few key things right. They got David Fincher to direct, and his list of credits speaks for itself. With films like The Social Network, Fight Club, The Game, and an academy Award for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
They got Kevin Spacey, one of Hollywoods best regarded character actors to play the lead. And they took on a topic that is both edgy and original. Until now, Washington politics has been taken on as the raw material of a biting comedy. From Veep to Political Animals, DC has been the fodder for series television about the ‘kooky’ DC world. But Netflix takes on DC with a dark, hard core, inside the beltway intrigue.
And, remarkably Netflix hits it out of the park their first time out making an original series.
But they did make a decision that I don’t understand. They released the entire season of 13 episodes all at once. Clearly they did this for a reason, but when you look at the benefits and the costs, it isn’t clear they made the right call.
A series that releases episodes weekly creates a social media engagment as fans comment on episodes, make guesses about character’s next moves, and share social media links and buzz with each other via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and more.
A weekly release schedule gives media critics and bloggers a series of editorial pegs to write about the series.
A weekly release schedule builds anticipation — encourages multiple check-in’s and an arc.
Now, to be fair, the idea of ‘Binge Viewing’ is certainly a trend that is growing. As more cable-cutters have to wait until a season of a popular show finished before the season is released on DVD or for Download. So it’s safe to say that Netflix has the viewing data to see that users are watching series in groups of episodes, either over the course of a few weeks, or in a weekend marathon. But the question is — does that really help Netflix with House of Cards?
CEO Reed Hastings, in a letter to investors said, “Linear channels must aggregate a large audience at a given time of day and hope the show programmed will actually attract enough viewers despite this constraint. With Netflix, members can enjoy a show anytime, and over time, we can effectively put the right show in front of members based on their viewing habits … For linear TV, the fixed number of prime-time slots mean that only shows that hit it big and fast survive … In contrast, Internet TV is an environment where smaller or quirkier shows can prosper because they can find a big enough audience over time. In baseball terms, linear TV only scores with home runs. We score with home runs, too, but also with singles, doubles, and triples.”
Sure, singles and doubles. But they’re still playing the long game. Way long.
It’s hard to see why they would trade in the social media buzz, media and blogger coverage, and the sheer enjoment of having a weekly viewing habit for what is otherwise such a well written and cinematic piece of series television.
Please Netflix, slow down. This is a series that deserves to be savored — not ‘binged’ on. But that’s just my 2 cents.