If Netflix’s new original “television” series can become a hit, it will be looked back upon as the watershed moment that created change in the cable industry. When I say ‘hit’, I don’t just mean good entertainment either. House Of Cards, which stars Kevin Spacey and is produced by David Fincher, looks amazing from all the trailers and previews. It makes The West Wing come off as programing you’d find in between episodes of Scooby-Doo on Saturday mornings. The question really isn’t whether people will enjoy what Netflix payed around $100 Million to develop, it’s will it be enough to draw new subscribers and keep existing ones.
In addition to premiering new original content, Netflix is also betting on a new way of thinking about video content that people haven’t really be exposed to before. All the episodes of House Of Cards will debut at once. That means no waiting around week after week to find out where the plot leads or what happens to your favorite character. No doubt this will be both a blessing and curse for people as some are able to control themselves, while others are paralyzed in front of their big screens breaking appointments and canceling prior engagements. There’s no reason Netflix needs to artificially hold episodes from airing at the same time and so they’re not. This forward thinking is something everyone assumes will be part of future content companies, but has yet to be put into practice. Netflix, unlike traditional networks, also isn’t beholden to advertisers or anyone other than consumers and shareholders. They’re free to add niceties to their service that creates goodwill and keeps people paying a minimum of $8 a month.
There’s been a general consensus for awhile, and petitions on the internet, that HBO should offer a standalone [streaming] subscription. They’ve declined, only further pointing the seemingly lucrative deals to stay bundled up in cable deals. Currently HBO has the shows fans can’t get enough of, but tied to a $100+ monthly cable service makes it hard to be accessible to the entire mainstream. Netflix has both the platforms for streaming and financial accessibility, which just leaves high quality original shows missing. Netflix’s chief content offer, Ted Sarandos, recently addressed the similarities to HBO saying, “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.”
Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money securing rights and content deals of existing shows, or even paying more to get shows and movies quicker, Netflix chose to be their own boss. A pivot like this for the company is even more obvious, in hindsight, than the betting on streaming was. Because while this is ultimately a move that will determine the fate of the company long term, it’s one that has to be done, and has to be done now. Really good content takes time and a lot of really good content takes even longer. It might seem a little extreme within today’s current circumstances for consumers to choose a streaming movie company over their traditional cable service, but if Netflix’s first entry into original programming can get any noticeable amount of customers to cut the cable cord, expect a heightened war in the digital content space. So while House Of Cards may only be a political drama, it’s easy to see how the title foreshadows everything that’s at stake.