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.
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.”
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