'House of Cards' deals winning hand to fans of binge TV
2/28/2013 2:35:36 AM
The Machiavellian scheming of a fictional US congressman with a chip on his shoulder and an ax to grind is taking binge television viewing to a new level.
In its most ambitious foray into original programming, online streaming service Netflix tossed conventional TV wisdom out the window and released all 13 episodes of "House of Cards" to its worldwide subscribers in one fell swoop.
That instantly appealed to fans of binge viewing weaned on lapping up entire seasons of previously telecast dramas and sitcoms on DVD or streaming video in as little as one or two sittings.
"Netflix was wise to release 'House of Cards' all at once," said Paul Levinson, a media studies professor at Fordham University in New York who ranks the show as one of the three best of the year.
"Allowing viewers to see as many episodes as they want, on their schedule and not Netflix's, plays right into the revolution in television that's happening right before our very eyes," he told AFP.
Inspired by an acclaimed BBC drama series from 1990, "House of Cards" stars Kevin Spacey as a Capitol Hill kingpin bent on revenge after the president he helped get elected denies him a promised senior cabinet post.
"This is 'The West Wing' for werewolves. It's going to keep people awake at night," Michael Dobbs, the writer of the original "House of Cards" and an executive producer on the remake, told the BBC in an interview.
Netflix won't say how many people have tuned into "House of Cards" since its February 1 premiere in 40-odd countries, saying conventional audience ratings don't apply for an online series with no commercial breaks.
But it has let slip that "House of Cards" has become its most popular offering -- no doubt encouraging more people to sign on to its $7.99-a-month service and access its vast catalog of pre-released TV shows and movies.
"It's a great start. It's phenomenally successful for us," Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings -- who wants to triple Netflix membership to 90 million -- told investors in San Francisco this week.
Netflix is reported to have paid $100 million for two 13-episode seasons of "House of Cards," which is set in Washington but filmed in nearby Baltimore to get around stringent restrictions on film-making in the US capital.
In a novel twist, Netflix also offers the BBC's original four-episode "House of Cards," giving viewers the chance to judge for themselves how the American remake stacks up against it.
Netflix's first foray into original programming was "Lilyhammer," a mobster drama it released -- all eight episodes at once -- a year ago in North America, not long after the series was telecast in Norway, where it is set.
But "House of Cards," co-starring Robin Wright and Kate Mara with "The Social Network" and "Fight Club" director David Fincher steering the tone-setting opening episodes, is playing for higher stakes.
"'House of Cards' is appealing to people who consume things all at once," said Mark Ghuneim of media analytics firm Trendrr, which recorded an early spike of interest in the show on social media that has since abated.
No other TV broadcaster, cable channel or streaming service is known to be following Netflix's all-at-once lead, but media analysts say "House of Cards" is a clear sign of how technology is reshaping the way people watch TV.
"This reflects the way we have come to consume media -- at our convenience, in our timeline and in large chunks," Elizabeth Marsh, a professor of multimedia at Florida International University in Miami, told AFP by email.
"Ask your friends, particularly young ones, how they got hooked on 'The Walking Dead'," she said, referring to the AMC horror series. "Many watched all the first season in one or two very long nights on Netflix."
"Releasing all the episodes at once was really empowering and allowed me to watch the series according to my schedule and not (that of) some network scheduler," added Kerry Lutz, a New York area lawyer and talk show host.
"And it was commercial free. Can't beat that."