Image: Asthma_Helper, Flickr
In May 2008 I gave an interview with TV Week magazine in which I discussed the future of television. In the interview I said:
Eventually, that’s going to be what the TV networks as they exist now are going to have to do. Not just create programming and release it at certain times. Rather than broadcasting 18 episodes of “Lost” over 18 weeks, they’ll release 18 episodes and you can buy it in any way you want. You can buy it and watch on your television, you can buy it and watch on your phone or you’ll be able to buy it on DVD simultaneously with its release as a broadcast. You can have it in a definite form and watch it at your leisure. (Emphasis added.)
So I was intrigued to read in the New York Times a few days ago that not only would Netflix be premiering its first original production, House of Cards, on February 1, 2013, but that all 13 episodes would be available for streaming at that time.
This all-at-once release reflects another point that I made in the TV Week interview:
Appointment television will still exist, but it will be a lot more finite. The appointment will not be each week or when the new show comes on, but the appointment will be the date that the show is released. It goes from being Thursday being the first new episode from the second half of the season for “Lost,” to Thursday being the release of the fifth season of “Lost.” The appointment becomes a more singular point rather than every week.
How we consume media–on which platform, at which place, during which time–is more in flux today than ever before. Netflix’s move into content producer is just one aspect of this. Traditionally, content producers would lobby established distributors (broadcast and cable networks, movie studios) to buy their content, as these were seen as the only way to reach an audience. No more. The advent of Internet streaming, smartphones and tablets, cheap Wi-Fi and content stores such as iTunes and Amazon means that who distributes the content is no longer a mark of quality or legitimacy. House of Cards demonstrates this: People are interested in this series because of the involvement of Oscar winners such as Kevin Spacey and director/producer David Fincher. It will be the rare viewer who will turn up her nose because it is being released via Netflix and not HBO or ABC.
Or to put it another way, just because there have been broadcast television networks for 70 years does not mean there will always be television networks. And Netflix is betting that this is the future.