Netflix has just released the first season of the American remake of House of Cards on their site all at once and given the early success that it has combined with news that it already has been greenlit for a second season. It is a peak into the future and that is a future that I look forward to.
Taking a step back for a moment, DVDs are a relatively recent phenomenon which have allowed the ability to effortlessly rewatch television shows in a manner that wasn’t possible before. In conjunction with this development was the growth of serial programming on television. The best example of that to date is Babylon Five, which was plotted out as a book, and while it had some hiccups in that original plan*, by and large it all worked out. While few other shows have been on the same level, Arrested Development is the closest, many shows have moved towards a more serial format instead of episodic format with a reset button at the end of every episode.
What comes with this serial structure is borrowing things from the literary medium such as foreshadowing, further reinforcing the idea of literary model. However outside of DVDs or instant streaming all at once there is still one big hurdle when it comes to new way of television. That being the fact that these episodes still need to be broadcasted. The CEO of Netflix made a strong argument that people don’t accept bits and pieces of books at predesignated times so why should they accept tv?
House of Cards however shows that this model isn’t gong to last forever and it shows what will come in the future. All of a season, all at once. In many ways this isn’t all that new. Considering that a growing percent of people no longer even watch television as it airs at all; instead opting to rely upon instant streaming sites, both legal and illegal in order to watch what they want to watch instead. So why not cut out the middle man entirely?
By moving towards this kind of release model it has several advantages. It appeals to a growing demographic who don’t even buy into traditional ideas of watching tv. It disincentives the usage of illegal streaming as it is already out there and easily accessible on the web. Not to mention that as we move along a path of greater computerization and more widespread internet access it alienates fewer and fewer people.
What makes House of Cards different then say Hulu is that in this case that the streaming service is what creates the content as well. Of course the biggest flaw in Hulu is making their content time sensitive before it goes behind their paywall. Which raises the question of how effective conventional advertisement is anymore but that is much harder to answer. The problem being that it makes ascertaining the future more difficult.
With more places producing tv shows and with the general quality of televison on the rise in certain regards**. The possibility for more and better tv is a very real possibility.
The problem being that if each place has a paywall then access to individual shows is going to be harder which is going to create a new host of problems in entertainment consumption. It would fragment the market in a way that consumers don’t really care for and will cause problems. In many ways its a similar problem to Steam and digital distribution of games.
House of Cards is a peak into the future, while the future it gives a peak into perfect, it does have enough to get hopeful about.
*Some of these worked for the better while others were making due with a problematic situation.
**Scifi as a genre has fallen from its heyday of shows such as DS9, Babylon Five and nuBSG