In the game of television viewership, there were three players networks like ABC and CBS, cable networks like AMC and FX, and premium networks like HBO and Showtime for decades these players held all the cards.
The best shows on television were produced by them. Then streaming services entered the game. They never held the best hands, but they were turning heads and forcing the networks to notice their presence. And now, they have their ace in the hole.
Taking its first shot at content creation, Netflix released the drama series House of Cards for its streaming subscribers on Feb. 1.
The show, produced and directed by The Social Network‘s David Fincher, stars Kevin Spacey as Francis “Frank” Underwood, a Democratic House Majority Whip who manipulates fellow politicians in his quest for political power.
Frank’s wife, played by Robin Wright, shares the same love for puppeteering the system as her husband and the two form one of the most powerful couples in Washington.
The cast doesn’t skimp on superstars. At first glance, you’ll ask, “shouldn’t a show like this be on HBO or something?” Well, it almost was.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix gambled $100 million on the shows success to outbid networks like HBO, AMC and others.
It’s a gamble that paid off because House of Cards is now the most watched piece of content on the streaming service, according to Netflix.
But the effects of the shows popularity go well beyond better ratings and higher numbers. If the show continues to set a trend in online streaming, we could see television change forever.
A Brand New Format
Unlike the once-a-week format that most networks follow, Netflix gave us House of Cards in a lump sum all 13 episode were available at once beginning February 1st. That’s a marathon lasting 11 hours, 660 minutes.
This is a first in television. For many reasons, the biggest is advertising networks must set a schedule for their programming that rations a season of a TV show across several months.
Because this was the norm for decades, we never thought twice about it. But now that we’re exposed to an all-inclusive access to an entire season, I’m not sure we can go back.
Not to mention the desperation writers use to throw cliffhangers at the end of each episode to rope viewers into the next week.
Statues, Statues, Statues
Do you think network executives are nervous over a Netflix original series? Think about the actors and actresses who will compete with Spacey and Wright come award season (assuming they’re nominated).
Networks like HBO, Showtime, and AMC are already putting enough pressure on over-the-air networks for awards for best drama series.
The last time an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series went to a basic network was 2006 (“24,” FOX).
If a House of Cards actor runs away with a statue, it will knock basic networks down to an ever lower notch. Expect some serious competition over the next few years to prevent that from happening.
HBO’s Game of Thrones was the most pirated TV show of 2012, according to Torrentfreak.com. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that it’s a great show, but also because the content from HBO is extremely limited if you’re not a cable or satellite subscriber.
According to directtvdeal.com, most satellite packages start around $30 a month with the option to add HBO on top of it. Then the subscriber has access to the network’s streaming service.
Netflix’s $7.99-a-month access was never a concern to the networks in the past because the studios and TV networks, not the services themselves, set the prices.
But now that Netflix is taking original content into their own hands, it’s giving them reasons to be nervous, and you should root for House of Cards to continue succeeding.
It won’t kill the networks, but just force them to step up their game, which gives better programming to us.