How Should You Watch Netflix’s Original Programming? However You Want.

Mitchell_Hurwitz_Will_Arnett

Netflix’s first foray into original programming with “House of Cards” has turned heads in the media industry for a number of reasons. The two-season deal cost Netflix $100 million bucks. Netflix isn’t releasing its own metrics on “ratings.” And perhaps the biggest deal of all: Netflix released the entire first season of “House of Cards” all at once. And it’s freaking everyone out.

How do we shift from a weekly, episodic model of watching television shows to this? Is Netflix promoting bingeing?

No, it’s not, according to Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos at our D: Dive Into Media conference. It’s promoting whatever sort of watching habits you prefer.

“We’re starting a different style of water cooler,” Sarandos said. “The rules of it are different. There’s no extra points for binge-watching. It’s 100 percent about consumer choice.”

To say it’s a change in business as usual is an understatement. As noted by Mitchell Hurwitz — creator of the cult-hit show “Arrested Development,” which is next in line for a Netflix original content reboot — it acts against many of the constraints and best industry practices. Actors are usually locked into five-year-plus contracts, which restricts their movements and ability to commit to other projects simultaneously. Viewers aren’t always in sync with one another, as some will binge and some will space it out. And forget about ratings — something that Sarandos won’t even discuss.

Dive_Arrested_Development_Netflix

But Hurwitz and Will Arnett — who plays G.O.B. Bluth, the hilarious and oft-maligned magician in “Arrested Development’”s dysfunctional Bluth family — embrace the staggered form, claiming it gives them creative liberties that they wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise.

It allows, for instance, the particular level of nuance and in-jokery that “Arrested Development” is known for, able to be appreciated upon repeat viewings by anyone, no matter at what point they discovered the show itself. To that point, Hurwitz and Arnett pointed to the success of “Arrested Development” on Hulu and DVD release in particular.

Thus, Netflix’s model of wide, single-season release seemed a better fit for shows like “Arrested Development” and “House of Cards” in particular.

“Netflix subscribers are right at the core of those who would watch ‘Arrested Development,’” Arnett said. “All of the little nuances of ‘Arrested Development’ were not for the kind of viewer who wants to come home after a long day of work and turn on the TV,” Hurwitz added.

So, ultimately, their argument goes, the medium is apt for the message. The question is, can Sarandos scale that to other shows which perhaps aren’t as playful with form and substance as, say, an “Arrested Development” or a “House of Cards” deigns to be?

Who knows? Sarandos maintains that Netflix is trying to “evolve television” rather than destroy it, so perhaps we’ll be used to this release mechanism in a few years if the method takes off. And Sarandos is playing the part of a true believer (at least, as long as those unknown engagement metrics and viewing numbers stay high).

“We created an international content brand on Netflix,” Sarandos said. “But, over time, it won’t be as novel, for sure.”

[ See post to watch video ]

Old Media Is the New Hotness for Chris Hughes and Larry Kramer

ChrisHughesLarryKramer

The business of news is a hard one, but at least two people running publishing institutions say they’re optimistic.

For the moment, printed publications are valuable because they’re an established way to make money, said Chris Hughes, publisher and editor in chief of the New Republic, and Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA Today, speaking today at D: Dive Into Media.

“I think we still belive that print has some future,” said Kramer, whose paper has a staff of 200 to 300 reporters and a circulation of 1.6 million. “Can I tell you how long? No.”

Meanwhile, the leading criticism of Hughes, who co-founded Facebook with his Harvard classmates and left in 2007, is that he bought the New Republic as a sort of feel-good personal project.

Hughes, whose publication has a circulation of 44,000, admitted that he’s not expecting to get rich (again). “I think we can be profitable. Certainly not this year, and not next year. But I think there’s a route to it.”

But he added, “We have a double-bottom-line business. I’m not here to make a lot of money for myself. But I also have to prove to ourselves and to the world that we can find a model of journalism that is sustainable.”

Both men described ways they are modernizing old media to make sure it provides value.

Kramer said he believes news is best when it’s timely and delivered to users wherever they are, and then later made relevant with things like unique angles and graphics.

For instance, the announcement that the pope was resigning broke at 7 am yesterday, and drove strong Web traffic to USA Today for about three hours, but then dropped off. So, by the time the paper came out the next morning, it led with the story, but took a a “second-day lede” rather than treating the story as straight news.

“Handing them a newspaper the following day that acts as if this is the first time you’re hearing it isn’t relevant,” Kramer said.

Meanwhile, Hughes described an approach to long-form journalism that treats stories as the beginning of a conversation, which is then later “curated” through conversation and further marginalia that “give it the dimension it deserves.”

He said that the New Republic receives more than a quarter of its traffic from social media. But the Facebook co-founder was more positive on Twitter as a driver of traffic, because it’s hard to stand out on Facebook. “We spend probably more time thinking about Twitter and the environment where people are passing around links than we do Facebook,” Hughes said.

[ See post to watch video ]