Monday, February 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm.

Thinking About A Post-‘House Of Cards’ Netflix World

DVDsNetflix’s new “House of Cards” series — almost halfway in — is worth watching, and could prove to be an important — or at least memorable — point in television history.

  1. It’s better than it needs to be. It’s certainly the most compelling made-for-digital series I’ve ever seen — it actually feels more like a very long movie than a TV show — and deserves all the attention it’s getting. I don’t really care about U.S. politics or Washington D.C., but Kevin Spacey is entertaining and the production is novel enough that I’m going to keep watching it, even with better things to do. (It’s a good thing, in hindsight, that this wasn’t junk!)
  2. The picture quality is impressive. It’s easy to forget how lousy and compressed $80-a-month “HD” television service from Time Warner Cable looks when it’s what you’re used to. But this Internet stream looks great. The Apple TV box has been a fantastic viewing device. And even considering Netflix’s limited control over Apple’s user interface, it was much easier to find than a new show on cable.
  3. Binge watching is awesome. I’ve done this, of course, with old shows on DVD and on Netflix, but never with a “new” show. Will this coax HBO to try releasing an entire season at once? Or another cable network? Or do they still rely too much on creating live “events” out of their shows?
  4. This screams for an offline, “Netflix To Go” feature. I’m flying to Europe this week, and I’d love to be able to bring some episodes with me on my iPad. In every other situation, I could just buy the episodes I want to watch offline on iTunes, and go back to streaming Netflix when I’m home. But when Netflix is the exclusive distributor, this isn’t an option. (I’d pay extra — either an all-in subscription, or on a per-episode basis — for this feature. Though Netflix has avoided pay-per-view in the past, partially in an effort to keep things simple.)
  5. Remember commercials?
  6. There could be a better watercooler for these kinds of shows. I’m not really the watch-shows-and-seriously-discuss-them-on-Twitter kind of guy, and most of that stuff is now more annoying than interesting. (It was fun a couple years ago, I suppose, when Bourdain started tweeting during his shows. Now a lot of that stuff feels forced and distracting, unless it’s sports or news.) But I’ve seen a bunch of people talking about this: How do you discuss a show when there isn’t even a universal point of up-to-date-ness? (For example: Should you tweet potential spoilers?) Perhaps unintentionally, “House of Cards” even includes a sort-of mile-marker hashtag mentioned in the show, #GoZoe, and you can kind-of see what people are saying once they’ve reached that point. But that doesn’t scale. Also, hashtags still give me the creeps. (I’ve also learned to be skeptical that any special service created for this sort of discussion would actually catch on — RIP, Hot Potato — but it’s definitely worth some thought, and possibly some experimentation. And, overall, I think Netflix could do a lot more with media. Feel free to give me a call, Mr. Hastings!)
  7. Imagine if Netflix had kept going with Red Envelope Entertainment, its before-its-time production and distribution wing. Perhaps it could be way ahead of where it is now? Or maybe Netflix needed to shut it down — and spend a few years working with the studios, during which its subscriber base grew tremendously — to get to its scale today?
  8. Will this help push ISPs toward consumption-based bandwidth billing? This isn’t just a TV series/movie that the cable companies are too lazy to offer on-demand, it’s one they can’t offer at all. (Barring some sort of Netflix premium channel.) It’s arguably the most legitimate scripted competition yet to the cable-dominated home-entertainment monopoly. Time to start billing for those Netflix streams by the gigabyte?
  9. Think the HBO suits are a little soft that Bill Maher did a guest spot on “House of Cards”? Or is any publicity for “Real Time” good publicity?
  10. Most important: How big will this be for Netflix? At the end of 2012, Netflix had 27 million U.S. streaming subscribers. For context, that compares to about 3 million viewers for an episode of “Mad Men” — a decent proxy for TV show for smart people that you have to dig down the dial foraround 20 million for network-TV-laziness-fueled “The West Wing”, and perhaps around 30 million U.S. HBO subscribers. I haven’t seen Netflix say anything concrete about how many people are watching “House of Cards”, but let’s pretend it’s possible that it’s up to a million or two viewers by now? Maybe few hundred thousand new subscribers will come out of this? Possibly, maybe, a million? Those aren’t holy-crap, drop-the-mic numbers, but they’d certainly be very good ones — helping legitimize Netflix as a platform for original content and getting studios excited about making shows for it. And that would be an excellent result.

Also: This Netflix-AOL Chart Will Blow Your Mind