The world of television is about to change on Feb. 1. And I have a feeling that change may be for good — both in terms of permanence and in terms of being positive.
That’s when Netflix will release “House of Cards,” a political thriller series starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Kate Mara. And they really will release it: All 13 episodes of the series will be available immediately. It’s up to the viewer as to when they watch it. It could be one all-nighter binge or you can spread it out over 13 weeks.
Or, and you can sign me up for this, you can watch it over 13 nights in a row (OK, I’ll probably have to go to a movie or two in that time, but my next available 13 nights).
This is the second time Netflix has done this (it offered the Norwegian-based gangster yarn “Lilyhammer” last year), but this time out they’ve got an Oscar-winning actor in Spacey and the pilot is being directed by David Fincher (“The Social Network”). They’re all in.
Come May, Netflix will be doing the same thing with the TV cult fave “Arrested Development”; it returns after years in limbo with 14 episodes, all of which will immediately be available.
To many of us who already watch TV content through DVDs, On Demand or Netflix, this has been a long time coming. I don’t want to watch on the network’s schedule, I want to watch how I want to watch. And usually I want to get immersed in a show, follow the flow from episode to episode (assuming there is one), watch characters and storylines develop without long silences.
You’ve got to wonder when the other premium, pay-for-it channels will climb on to this model. Why not deliver the entire season of “Homeland” at once? It’s not like you’re making money off commercials (the reason broadcast networks will never be able to make this work).
This is where TV is heading. At this point we’re used to paying for the service, even if it’s just basic cable or satellite. Would I pay an extra buck to be able to watch the entire new season of “Shameless” right now? You bet. And if Showtime could make that extra buck from even half its subscribers for a premium-premium instant availability service, wouldn’t it be worth it to them?
OK, maybe two bucks, but you get the point. I’m pretty sure Netflix is pointing the way to the future. Whether it’s two years or 10, eventually TV will have options for immediate accessibility on all its premium channels, and I’m pretty sure that will make viewership for those premium channels grow. The idea plays to the audience, and TV (like all mediums) depends on pleasing the audience.