Netflix glimpses the future with “House of Cards”

Netflix has jumped into the original content business with the new series House of Cards. Starring Kevin Spacey as Congressman Francis Underwood, the show is the video-streaming service’s first foray into original programming. Costing a whopping $100 million, the David Fincher-directed original represents a new direction for the online service, which hopes to widen its influence for customers.

On Feb. 1, Netflix released all 13 episodes of the entire first season, allowing viewers immediate access to “binge viewing”—the increasingly popular activity of watching an entire season of a show or more in one or two sittings. “Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day,” said producer and writer Beau Willimon. Netflix is hoping that the show—about the seedy underbelly of Washington D.C. and the interlocking workings of power in Congress and the White House—will do just that.

With House of Cards, viewers would not need to wait a whole week to find out what comes of the relationship between Congressman Underwood and Zoe Barnes, a reporter and potential confidant—it is all there, ready to be watched as soon as possible. What this approach means for advertising or the ratings of the new series may still be too early to be determined, but early results were positive.

Regardless of the release format, the show has received high marks from critics, with a 76 out of 100 rating according to reviews aggregate MetaCritic. Moreover, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos revealed that the new programming is the online service’s most-watched selection on the site in all 40 countries in which it operates. Sarandos would not specify with concrete numbers, only mentioning that the metrics would be different than with a traditional cable network’s programming for a number of reasons.

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A new development somewhat unique to this show is that, according to Sarandos, the show, “assumes you know what’s happening all the time, whereas television has to assume that a big chunk of the audience is always just tuning in."

This model will be further tested this May, when Netflix releases all 14 episodes of the beloved comedy Arrested Development, also all at once. Canceled in 2006 by Fox, the show was brought back into production by Netflix, which expects big results from the revived cult classic.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings stressed that the company was taking a different approach with Arrested Development than with House of Cards, which the company outbid HBO and AMC to air. “Arrested is a unique property; we don’t anticipate being able to do seasons five, six and seven. We have less of a stake in it. It is really a fantastic one-off, which is coming together incredibly,” said Hastings.

The experiment will continue, with Netflix planning to release roughly five original programs a year. The binge watching, or “marathoning” will continue.

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