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Cable Technology Feature Article

February 04, 2013

'House of Cards' May Be Offering a Winning Hand for Netflix

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

With its recent U.S. series debut on Netflix, “House of Cards” may be breaking crucial, new ground on the streaming network.

The dramatic program is originally produced and may offer insights into where streaming television service is heading. On one level, the series is breaking new ground by letting viewers watch one episode after the other all on the same day.

There is no more of that forced waiting, as with the classic question of, “Who Shot J.R.?” from the earlier version of “Dallas” in 1980 on broadcast television.

"This is the direction that storytelling is evolving, where you're going to have the most interesting story lines, the most interesting characters," Kevin Spacey, a star and executive producer of House of Cards, added in a statement to GQ. "What a company like Netflix is doing is the ultimate expression of individual control, proof of what people's attention span really is."

Soon, two other series, “Orange (News - Alert) Is the New Black” and “Hemlock Grove,” will be streamed on Netflix, as well. Netflix will also present season four of “Arrested Development.” There are other key shows to be offered on Netflix, as well.

Netflix – given its popularity in the United States – is likely to be influential for the sector, and its programming needs to be followed by industry observers. Just consider these figures. Netflix has some 30 million streaming subscribers globally. There are more than 25 million U.S. subscribers, an impressive number, and some 8 million people pay to get DVDs sent to them in the mail. What may be truly trendsetting is close to a third of all U.S. Internet streaming traffic in the evening comes through Netflix, GQ reported. Those numbers are predicted to head up over the next few years.

“These shows don't need to spike initially with new subscribers, but with positive press and word-of-mouth, it could really take off over a multi-year period," Michael Olson, a senior research analyst for Piper Jaffray, said in a report carried by TMCnet.

But what do the critics think of the content of the new programs, such as House of Cards?

Not every review of the series has been positive. Wired, for instance, complained “the content of the show often feels curiously old-fashioned, especially in the context of its innovative format.” At times, there are “clumsy dialogue and scenes that are too on-the-nose and out-of-step with the kind of sophisticated, layered writing we've come to expect from shows like ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Breaking Bad’ or even ‘Game of Thrones.’”

But there are praises for performances by the actors and even more for the work of the directors.

“This is a surprisingly beautiful series to look at; there's a stillness and grace to the direction that manages to ground the story in something that isn't ‘realism,’ but feels naturalistic nonetheless,” Wired said in its review. “That's one of the wins for the format that Netflix offers. Being able to watch the next installment immediately after the first made me retroactively like the premiere more; I got to the pay-off more quickly, and to a second episode with more momentum and less awkward exposition.”

Also, with the Netflix programs there is no need for them to be edited to fit a preset broadcast length or a need for them to be broken up by commercial breaks, Wired adds. In the past, there also tended to be excitement in a show just before commercial breaks in more traditional programs to avoid viewers changing channels or turning off the set. That forced excitement is not apparent here.

“It is a good show, and one that benefits significantly by being freed of the time and scheduling restrictions that television typically imposes,” Wired said.

In fact, from the point of view of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, traditional entertainment was based on “managed dissatisfaction” and “waiting.”

“Waiting means pent-up demand, millions of people watching the same thing at the same time, preferably at night, when they're pliant with exhaustion and ready to believe they need the stuff being hawked in all those commercials,” GQ reported.

It is clear that television viewing and programming will be changing. House of Cards gives us an idea where it is heading.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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