Netflix took a huge gamble on original content with its newest series House of Cards. The political drama starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey cost $100 million for two seasons, a clear sign that Netflix is banking on its streaming model being the future of television.
The show, which debuted on February 1 when Netflix made the entire 13-episode first season available, is the most-watched streaming TV title on Netflix, according to chief content officer Ted Sarandos. It’s not clear what that means since they don’t release actual numbers, but obviously Netflix will try to claim this as a huge victory for its new model.
However, those who think this is the future of television are sorely mistaken.
Putting an entire series online at once might sound appealing to some viewers. Those who voraciously chow down on marathons of Mad Men, Game of Thrones of Homeland will undoubtedly leap at the opportunity to enjoy an entire season’s worth of new content. Clearly people love watching what they want when they want it.
But those who would say House of Cards represents the future of television, a new paradigm in how content will be delivered, are overlooking one very important factor: social media.
Television has become a communal experience. People don’t just watch a show and talk about it the next day at the water cooler, they jump on Twitter and Facebook as soon as its over (or while it’s still airing) to post live thoughts on each and every plot twist or development. Can you believe they killed off that character? I’m so bad that contestant got eliminated from my favorite reality show! OMG, did you just see what happened on Pretty Little Liars or Scandal!?!
That’s the future of television. It’s becoming an interactive medium where the second-screen experience (like BuddyTV’s very own app) is every bit as important as the show itself. People don’t want to watch TV in a bubble, they want to watch AND discuss.
This is where the House of Cards model for Netflix fails miserably. If the entire season is posted at once and people can watch whenever they want, it’s impossible to talk about it in real-time. You might finish episode six and NEED to talk about it right away, but other people are way behind or already finished or haven’t even discovered the show yet. And why even bother posting your theory on what will happen since you can find out right away by watching episode seven.
Heck, it’s been less than two weeks since House of Cards premiered, and is anyone actually talking about it or engaging with it beyond simply watching? There were a bunch of articles and reviews posted online the day it launched, but that’s only one day of buzz and excitement.
TV shows succeed based on how much social media attention they get. Scandal has been growing its audience recently because crazy plot twists drive a ton of Twitter comments during every episode, bringing new viewers to the show. The Walking Dead‘s continued rise in viewers might be attributed to the fact that AMC is devoting an entire hour to a talk show where all they do is discuss that week’s episode. And how else besides online fan buzz can you explain the fact that the CW’s Beauty and the Beast won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New Drama over shows with exponentially more viewers like Elementary, Revolution and Nashville?
It’s all about social media. Fans want to watch their favorite show and then immediately discuss it with other fans. They want to post theories about what will happen next. They want to wonder if two characters will finally hook up. They want to sort through every last moment of the latest episode to pick out their favorite.
You can’t do any of that with the Netflix model. This might work for viewers who want to binge on great shows they missed or need to get caught up on. Netflix is a fantastic resource to make sure you see all five seasons of Mad Men before the sixth begins on AMC, where it will air once a week. It’s a wonderful place for new fans to discover gems like The Wire, The Shield, Deadwood, etc., shows that are all done.
But Netflix is not the future of television. Television is no longer a singular, private activity. It’s communal and interactive. And in that respect, Netflix’s House of Cards is a massive step backwards.
(Image courtesy of Netflix)