Let me start by saying, I’m used to being called names. It doesn’t hurt my feelings a bit. So, when the comments section lit up last week after what I thought was a relatively innocuous article about Netflix taking a big risk by releasing (dumping) the whole season of HOC out in the market at one time — I was a bit taken aback.
The basic thrust of the critics was simple — I simply didn’t know what I was talking about. For them, a generation that had grown up on DVD seasons of shows, Hulu series, and Netflix shows by the pound, the idea of not having the entire series available seemed — well — kinda old school.
Here’s a snapshot of what was said in the comments:
Neria Lothamer: “HEY FORBES, if the author of the opinion about Netrflix “House of Cards” represents your values, then you are stupid. I enjoy the pure pleasure of watching (series) for hours and hours at a time.”
Seth Crossley: “With due respect, Mr. Rosenbaum, you are living in your own generation. Given the opportunity of being a decade younger you would understand the significance of the convenience of being able to watch any television program over the course of my free time.”
Scott Coventry: “The author is old, or wishes he was, as he remembers the days of three networks plus PBS and excellent Serials like Flash Gordon.”
For clarity, I’ve never watched Flash Gordon — but I did hear the crowd loud and clear. Times have changed. Appointment viewing is now Binge viewing. Series are devoured, they aren’t savoured like fine wine. And I was prepared to to wave my fist in the air and bellow “Get off my lawn” — but then something happened.
First it was an episode a day, then two, then a marathon. And now, yes it’s true — I’ve watched the entire 13 hours of House of Cards and… sigh… it was good. Damn good!
It turns out that waiting for the next episode is an artifact of an earlier era. A linear viewing experience in what is now an non-linear, on demand, always on, world.
It is what my friend Scott Peters explained to me, a world of W. W. W. Viewers want “What they want”, and they want it “When they want it”, and they want it “Where they want It.” WWW Viewing. And, fear not Mr. Lothamer… I am among them.
I watched episodes 1 and 2 on my Roku. Episodes 3, 4 on my iPad in a hotel room in San Francisco. Episode 5 on my iPhone at the San Jose airport, and the balance on my Tivo at home in a few days. Four devices, two ends of the country, three locations, and I liked it.
Now, this new on demand, all you can eat diet of viewing isn’t without its challenges. My wife had to catch up since we were out of sync (I re-watched 3 and 4 with her). My older son is a few hours behind, so our dinner table conversations about HOC are cautious and circumspect. No meal-time spoilers allowed.
But that is all besides the point.
The series is brilliant. Kevin Spacey is at his best — conniving, charming, scheming and ruthless. And the cinematic unfolding of the complex intersecting storylines is delivered with a crisp cinematic style that has me counting the days (or is it months) until season two. Netflix has catapulted itself into the rarified air of HBO and AMC, creating a piece of cinema that raises the bar for original series — and gives writers and creators a brand new place to pitch their most audacious ideas.
What Netflix did — and what I respect Reed Hastings and his team for understanding — is that they are not in charge of the audience’s lives, schedules, or habits. Almost from the moment that Tivo came along viewers were time-shifting, storing, and watching TV on their own terms. The idea of a real time audience is, I now understand, an antiquated concept. Sure, we lose some of the water-cooler elements of live, mass-media broadcast. But no one knows better than I do how much of that business is in the rear view mirror.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix Chief Content Officer, said at the recent “D — Dive Into Media” conference that HOC is now the most watched program on Netflix, and not just in the US, but all around the world. More people watching, and more hours watched. Said Sarandos: “We’re creating a new kind of watercooler — it’s still watercooler, but the rules of it are different.” Now, says Hastings — conversations begin with “What episode are you on.” It’s kind of like he’s been sitting around my dinning room table. “We’re trying to evolve television” said Sarandos. “We’re crafting long-form storytelling, to be watched any way you want to watch it.”
Netflix is creating a new way to make and watch television — and I for one am willing to admit, I was wrong.
Here’s to the era of W. W. W. viewing.