History is written by the winners, blah blah...is Netflix gonna be one of the winners? I think they have already earned a place by changing the rental landscape in such a way that existing companies felt pressured to mimic them (Blockbuster By Mail), and new companies pressured to come up with their own distribution model (Redbox). Is anyone still settled in the brick and mortar rental market other than stores with very niche inventory? Anyway—this is about the second thing they could change.
And that is the presentation of a season of TV. They've already done something different with House Of Cards. They went big by getting actors like Kevin Spacey, which was issue #1—would this look like we put it together in our uncle's barn with all the kids from the neighbourhood? But how does an originally physical distribution platform air its own series? Does it buy into the traditional big network calendar of seasons that even the big networks are sticking to less than before? Why bother if they're not concerned with sweeps or selling advertising space during each episode? HBO and Showtime, etc, have already gone the fairly conventional route, but they're *networks* and they *broadcast*. Neither of those terms apply to Netflix.
I belong to a discussion site that's really rigorous about allowing people space to talk about TV while minimising the risk as much as mortally possible of inadvertent spoilage. The mandate is to err on the side of just not talking about it, if it doesn't fit into tidy boxes and rules and predictability.
So here we have House Of Cards, created by a company to whom many of us have access, but which is revealed to us in a weird and wacky way: all at once. What do you do with that? What good your spoiler rules now? In the end, I think it limited discussion, but we're not the sort of market Netflix needs to consider—we're the OCD "TV is trufax a hobby" slice of fandom which is a minority at the fringes of a minority. And maybe one of us is an American male between eighteen and thirty four. We are the unwashed and undesirables, so, moving on...
What does this do to TV as a social event? Even if you're not huddled around the set with your friends and family, and you've gotten used to there being no safety in assuming they saw it when it aired, you can still kind of approximate when each episode and therefore the whole series has been watched. But now you have a show which seems tailor made for the obsessive mainlining marathoners amongst us (you know who you are, no need to be shy), since you can sacrifice a night's sleep and be all ready for the water cooler in the morning, except...
Who else did? Who do you talk to about it? How does entertainment news write about it? How are ratings reported, since it might take some people as much as the 13 weeks to watch it, if not more?
And how important are those things?
I'd love to know what metrics Netflix established at the start of the project—what measurable goals they were aiming for, by whose meeting or not they can decide on failure or success. Because I don't know how to count it myself.
Unfortunately, not only does Netflix not reveal its target, it also doesn't reveal how close (or far) they reached in trying to hit the goal. We have no ratings either, in a scenario where every legal viewing of the show can be accurately counted, other than handling the number of people in the room at once. But they did up front commit to two seasons, so that takes some of the breath-holding out of the initial equation.
But this isn't even why I sat down to write about Netflix. This is all way cool and different and getting the attention of their competitors (Amazon and Microsoft, for instance, are moving towards their own content generation, and Apple never seems to be consistent with that "TV" means to them—surely this is a consideration?) but what really raised my eyebrows is their plan for Arrested Development.
I mean, not only do all the episodes "air" at the same time, their order is irrelevant. The fuck? How can you do that to a person like me (I'm still recovering from the ability to buy...buy half an album ("Mom, what's "album" mean?"))? Who feels that sequential development is a keystone of narrative, even for a comedy like Arrested Development, especially for a comedy like Arrested Development.
But no, because they are the people who brought such a different show to network TV in the first place, why should they be "normal" in presenting original content from a non-network who's non-broadcasting their non-series?
Instead, we're going to be treated to an epic Rashomon, one story told and retold through various perspectives, and I suspect that even if it isn't brilliant (what? who said that?) it will be eye opening, and it won't be boring. Wait until the online fights start about which is the optimal sequence to consume them in—taking into account that there's no "right" way to do this without rewatching—might as well figure that into your obsessive schedule right away.
This is gonna be a fun race to the end of the circle—make sure you're properly warmed up before the starter's pistol fires. You don't want to have less fun than the geek next door.