On February 1st, Netflix users finally got a chance to watch House of Cards. This Netflix original series is their first high-profile release that is drawing comparisons to HBO and Showtime. However, it isn't just the original content that is getting attention. Netflix has made the decision to release all 13 episodes of the political drama all at once. Viewers have no need to wait, and nothing to stop them from drinking right form the fire hose.
Naturally, the decision to release all shows at once has drawn some criticism. For many of us, it is our first experience with a new show in this format. As this post form The Verge noted, a major problem with releasing everything at once is that it’s hard to talk about the show in social media. Tweeting specific reactions to the show is tricky, as everyone may be at different points. The water cooler talk may suffer as well, as we have no standard expectation that our friends watched at a standard time. Netflix isn’t just changing how we watch TV, Netflix is changing how we talk about TV.
I don’t believe that this decision was made lightly at Netflix. I believe that the first season House of Cards was released in one shot as part of a calculated effort to get the most from their investment. Here are five reasons why Netflix is right.
1. We’ve been training for this for over a decade. I never watched episodes of 24 on FOX, but I was a huge fan. I bought the DVD sets, and never seemed to be able to just watch one. In fact I remember a Sunday in college where I watched the second half of the first season in one sitting (I know, it’s worth bragging about). Eventually, most of us shifted from DVDs to streaming and on-demand services. Firefly couldn’t make it on broadcast television, but it’s a staple in many a Netflix que (and can be watched in a weekend). If you’ve only watched TV through an antenna or cable box, I’m sure you’ve caught a sitcom marathon or two in your day.
2. Netflix has the information to back this decision up. One of Netflix’s greatest assets is their user data. That sounds big brotherish, but hear me out. Netflix has been suggesting what we should watch for years. Their recommendation engine is well-known. Netflix can aggregate all of our viewing habits to see trends. Perhaps this wasn’t an easy decision, but I bet their data shows that most people don’t consume their content one episode a week. No, we watch it in spurts. This is likely how they will determine what types of content to pursue in the future. I’m sure we wouldn’t be getting more episodes of Arrested Development if it hadn’t been so popular on Netflix. If everyone watches scary movies and episodes of American Horror Story, they might just find something similar.
3. We don’t watch episodic TV on a schedule anyway. Before you discuss last night’s episode, it’s already good manners to ask your friends if they watched Game of Thrones, or if it’s still waiting on their DVR. We’ve evolved past watching TV on a networks schedule. For some time, the only safe thing to assume people watch live are news and sports (maybe reality TV and competitions).
4. This can give Netflix a competitive advantage. We become emotionally invested in the characters of a series, but that takes time. This means that early in a TV show, the storylines have to be compelling enough to make us wait until the next episode. Over time, mediocre shows can start to feel like a chore and try our patience. While this problem still may exist for House of Cards, having a full season of shows at our disposal eliminates the time we are forced to wait. A week of waiting between episodes can cause us to reconsider our commitment to a series and change our plans. However, we are less likely to reconsider our faithfulness if we are just one click away from the next episode. Where in the past we may have jumped ship at a bad storyline, we now may sit patiently (or passively) through the entire season.
5. We have new ways to talk about entertainment. Twitter is great, but I don’t like having to watch out for spoilers while I browse my feed. I’m a believer in the right medium for the message; which is why blogs, communities, podcasts and other tools can allow us to discuss and enjoy our content the way we want. I fully expect a few House of Cards fan communities and podcasts to pop-up (which will only help Netflix promote the show).
There you have it, five reasons to stop clinging to your rabbit ears get on the bandwagon. What do you think? Is Netflix making a mistake that will flash in the pan? Is this really just a matter of the quality of the show? Is waiting for new episodes part of the experience? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.