Whew. How about that ridiculously long “House of Cards” recap from the other day?! That thing was a doozy! And now, for our next (hopefully shorter) trick …
… let’s talk about Comcast. And Verizon. And, well, I’ll just shut up. Take it from Digital Trends’ Ryan Waniata, who, it should be noted, clearly stole my pet name for Netflix. Insert cuss word here. OK, here we go …
“Two of the Nation’s biggest Multi-system Operators (MSOs) are laying the groundwork to sell episodes from Season One of Netflix’s popular series ‘House of Cards,'” he wrote a few days ago. “According to MultiChannel News, Comcast is in negotiations with Sony for the rights to sell the show via its on-demand DVRs now, and Verizon is already doing so through its EST service. The price for HD versions of aging House of Cards episodes in a non-Neflix world? A cool $3 each.”
A lot has been made of this throughout the week. “How stupid is this?” has been the consensus. You could pay 10 bucks a month, have access to both seasons at any time you want, and not have to worry about explaining how you “were able to watch it, even though I don’t have Netflix,” yet not in a particularly cool way (note: I have no idea what cool is). The prices vary, of course. Three bucks for Verizon, as you can see, though if you don’t care about high-defintion, that tag goes down to two dollars. ITunes, in all its overpriced glory, clocks in at $3.50.
Me? I don’t really care about that element of this equation. People buy episodes of television shows all the time. I mean, that’s how I watched the final “Breaking Bad” run, and it’s going to be how I keep up with this final “Mad Men” half-season next month. If there was anything still on HBO or Showtime that I felt super passionate about, I’d do the same thing. This is in large part because I don’t have cable in the first place, of course, but even if I did, it’s hard to believe I would splurge for the premium channels (for as hard as it is to justify paying for NBC, do you really think I could convince myself it’s a good idea to pay a monthly fee for “The Newsroom?”). On that end at least, the differences between Netflix and HBO, for instance, are minimal at best, nonexistent at worst.
The issue I have with all this pertains to something far more important than wasted money: Exclusivity. Until now, you either ponied up for a Netflix subscription or you could never even as much as glance at the complicated, devious life of the Underwoods. And because Big Red (yeah, that was mine first, Waniata) didn’t initially make its bones through original content, this type of expansion only made the service that much more desirable. “Oh, so now I can watch all the movies and television shows I want … and they’re going to give me some really, really good original content to sink my teeth into?! Where can I sign up and how many credit card numbers do you need?!” That’s how we thought. That’s how Netflix worked.
Making the stuff available through cable television OnDemand services, however … that devalues the appeal Netflix has been so good at building in the last few years. I don’t care if you charge one dollar or 20 dollars an episode — the loss of singularity in this case is priceless.
Yes, I understand the episodes have been on DVD (and yes, despite the idiotic decision to not include a single extra feature — but that’s another post for another day — I even own them). Yes, I understand that people have been bootlegging other people’s Netflix accounts now for years. Yes, I understand this could ultimately help grow the audience of the show. And yes, I understand that revenue for the series will more than likely enjoy a fairly significant bump because of this.
But none of it really makes up for the reality that “House of Cards” just went from “That One Netflix Show” to something far less substantial. “That One Where Kevin Spacey Is The President” or “That One With The Girl From ‘The Princess Bride.'” Those are your possible new titles. Part of Big Red’s success and zeitgeist domination has been its ability to present itself like a fine wine. I’m not saying this makes it just another hangover-inducing box of swill; but I am saying that there has now been discussion to move its position from the top shelf.
For now, we can only wait to see where it leads (“Orange Is The New Black” reruns on MTV 2?). In the meantime, if you feel like driving over to Annapolis tonight, you might actually run into Frank Underwood himself, presumably continuing his search for Doug.