Netflix needed its Sopranos …

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

After all the hoopla surrounding the unveiling of the American adaptation of “House Of Cards” on Netflix. After all the months upon months upon months of walk-up stories featuring interviews with actors and producers and directors and CEOs. After seeing those posters of Kevin Spacey looking angry while sitting on a big monument of a chair. After writers and critics dawned the era of a new day in television consumption the minute all these episodes were unleashed on the world. After all of these things and countless more were considered amongst all of us who love television, computers and the World Wide Internet … it is with a great deal of glee that I can report the following …

“House of Cards” isn’t good. “House of Cards” is great.

No, but really. A mere three 50-minute episodes into the series (yes, expect more of these posts as I wander my way through the rest of it), and I already have no problem calling it the best thing (not) on television. The best part? I’m not alone …

“First it was an episode a day, then two, then a marathon,” Forbes‘ Steven Rosenbaum wrote earlier today. “And now, yes it’s true — I’ve watched the entire 13 hours of ‘House of Cards’ and … sigh … it was good. D-@# good!”

That passage came from Rosenbaum’s piece on how wrong he was about initially dismissing the notion of binge viewing. In it, he explains something his friend calls WWW (What they want, when they want it and where they want it) Viewing. All it took for him to see the light, he said, was Netflix’s latest original series. 

“I watched episodes 1 and 2 on my Roku,” he noted. “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.

“What Netflix did,” he continued, “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.”

In the rear view mirror, indeed.

Much of the talk leading up to the release of “House of Cards” dealt with Netflix setting the standard for the future of online viewing. The company needed a “Sopranos” in the same way HBO did, or a “Mad Men” in the same way AMC did. With “House of Cards,” Netflix got just that — a legitimate series that critics can praise and fans can sink their teeth into. The more lauded this show gets, the tinier the vision of that business becomes as it falls further and further behind the car that has already zoomed past it.

Don’t believe me? Check out Lost Remote’s breakdown of how much buzz the show created …

“According to social media benchmarking company Unmetric, ‘the “House of Cards” trailer is the most viewed of all the videos in Netflix’s YouTube Channel with more than 1.2 million views — it gained a million views between 16th January and 8th February.’ This show was huge for Netflix’s growth on the social web,” Natan Edelsburg wrote. “Bringing more eyeballs to their YouTube Channel means that House of Cards is significantly helping them grow their marketing channels. This will definitely help them grow their subscriber base as they continue to unleash more and more content.”

Need some numbers? Don’t we all. According to Edelsburg via Tospy …

  • 17,940 Tweets: Feb. 1st – Debut of “House of Cards” on Netflix
  • 18,796 Tweets: Feb. 2nd – Peak in Twitter chatter
  • 13,563 Tweets: Feb. 5th – The New Yorker publishes a story on “House of Cards” and the Decline of Cable

Edelsburg’s roundup is a must-read for anyone looking for a comprehensive background on how much impact the show had on Netflix. For instance, how many people will The Big Red Envelope need to sign up for its service in order to break even on this particular investment? Which actor had the top tweet regarding the show (here’s a hint — there isn’t a better supporting actor on television today)? How does the show’s social media impact compare with other series that air on traditional cable? All of this and oh, so many more delicious and neat little tidbits can be found over there.

So, click. Now. 

Do it.

OK. Are you back? Good.

The most important detail of all this is simple (and I can’t stress this enough): The show is great. Not good — it’s great. Outside of Spacey’s odd use of a faint southern accent that likes to come and go as it pleases (still not sure what to make of that), the production is practically flawless. Netflix was going for broke when it pumped so much money into the show, and if it failed, the future of Internet television would have been in very serious and very immediate jeopardy.

Instead, the company concocted a genuinely formidable series, pulled the trigger on the unorthodox approach to releasing the stuff and let the product speak for itself. The result is nothing short of extraordinary and it leaves all of us “Arrest Development” fans craving to see how well that show’s reboot turns out now that Netflix can actually be … and here comes the big word, friends … trusted.

Until now, no one really knew if any of what the Envelope was doing would be worth our time. With “House of Cards,” we now know that not only is their original programming worth our time, but it’s also worth considering among some of the best viewing experiences out there. The only question we are left with isn’t if this stuff can work anymore. Rather, it’s how long will it be until this precise business model becomes the rule rather than the exception.

And if nothing else, “House of Cards” assured us that such is only a matter of time.

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