In a desperate bid to keep themselves in business as the tide of DVD rentals washes out of existence, Netflix follows in the footsteps of HBO and AMC and jumps into the world of original content.
Starting tomorrow, the company that once mailed movies to your door is doing its part to make broadcast television an entertainment-less wasteland, by unveiling its new series "House of Cards." This is what happens when you give David Fincher (Fight Club, the Social Network) $100 million and tell him to go make a TV series.
The political drama stars Kevin Spacey and GQ says the story is "pitch black" and plays like "the anti West Wing." OK, I'm in.
Here's the trailer for House of Cards
But here's the interesting thing about the way Netflix is doing this: unlike every other television series known to man, this one is premiering its entire season - all 13 episodes - all at once. Viewers can watch the first episode, decide if they like the show, and then immediately watch the rest of the season that first day it airs. Season two of the series is already in the works.
Will this change in distributing episodic television affect viewership? Part of what makes a television series entertaining is seeing the characters and story lines develop over time. Waiting creates anticipation that translates into viewers. People talking at the office or posting on Facebook about what happened on True Blood last Sunday tends to create interest in potential viewers that might not have watched before. Word of mouth is effective advertising.
What Netflix is doing is dramatically changing the way people watch television. It mutates the conversation from "Did you see what happened last night?" to "What part of the story are you at?"
And then what? What if viewers glut themselves on the show over the period of a weekend and then have to wait a while for the next season to be shot, edited and produced? What if people burn themselves out? Will they want to come back for series 2?
To be honest, not many people have an answer to this. As Spacey said, "I guess we'll find out really soon."