Netflix Encourages Binge Viewing With New Below The Beltway Series

by | Feb 25, 2013

It’s been one week and a day since the terribly disappointing season ending episode of “Downton Abbey.” I do like a well made dramatic series, so Downton’s seasonal close leaves a void. One we are attempting to fill by watching “House of Cards,” the newly released series from Netflix.

Already, Darby and I have consumed 11 of the 13 episodes, and we will likely watch the last two this evening. What’s interesting is Netflix intended us to watch the show this way. Instead of doling episodes out once a week, like network and cable TV have done for decades, Netlfix released all 13 episodes at one time on February 1, 2013.

“Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day,” the show’s producer Beau Willimon told The New York Times in January.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Netflix Chief Content Office Ted Sarandos said, “The Internet is attuning people to get what they want when they want it,” Sarandos said. “‘House of Cards’ is literally the first show for the on-demand generation.”

The LA Times also notes that the absence of ads means that each episode has more time for story lines and relationships — as much as 15 more minutes of story per television hour. That’s an opportunity missed in my opinion. Some of the plot lines in the show are incredulous at best, and the portrayal of female journalists is outrageous — “I used to suck, screw, and jerk anything that moved just to get a story,” Janine tells Zoe over green curry. But let’s stay with the business side of the story here, and look at how Netflix came to the decision to develop and distribute their own content in the first place.

David Carr of the Times points to the company’s adept use of data.

Big bets are now being informed by Big Data, and no one knows more about audiences than Netflix. As a technology company that distributes and now produces content, Netflix has mind-boggling access to consumer sentiment in real time. Netflix looks at 30 million “plays” a day, including when you pause, rewind and fast forward, four million ratings by Netflix subscribers, three million searches as well as the time of day when shows are watched and on what devices.

I suppose the all the data did make it easier to invest in big stars like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and director David Fincher (he directed the first two episodes). But there’s also timeless storytelling here. In fact, Netflix is not the first to produce the Michael Dobbs novel. BBC aired a four-show run in 1990. Amazon Prime members can view the episodes here. The original programs are also available on YouTube.