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The Rise of Netflix

House of Cards made TV history overnight when Netflix, an American provider of on-demand Internet streaming media, released all 13 episodes of the show at once for viewers to watch at their own pace in February.

House of Cards is an American adaptation of the 1990s British miniseries of the same name, based on a novel by Michael Dobbs about death, sex and politics.

Starring Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) Robin Wright (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Kate Mara (American Horror Story), House of Cards is different from other ambitious shows being made these days as it didn’t debut on television. It’s the first major TV show to completely bypass the television medium of networks and cable operators and premier online. This meant no scanning TV schedules to know when the next episode airs.

Given the show’s production cost Netflix upward of $100 million, it may seem like Netflix took a big risk producing original content rather than licensing content that was already successful.

Executive producer of House of Cards, Beau Willimon (The Ides of March), explains that he always wanted to write for television, but never thought it would happen.

“Netflix gave us a generous amount of creative freedom, which made signing on with them an easy decision,” Willimon said.

“You want something that engages the audience, that has truth in it, that means something to you, and … allows you to explore a world that will constantly challenge and surprise you,” he said.

“That’s what telling a great story is about.”

Until recently, major commercial TV networks monopolised original TV programming, investing in it to sell advertising space to corporations. Netflix has changed the competitive landscape between TV networks, satellite broadcasters and cable companies; more competition means lower prices.

Netflix revolutionises the way people watch TV shows. It has more than 33 million members in 40 countries that subscribe to their services for $7.99 US per month. Since Netflix is an on-demand Internet streaming media service and not a commercial TV network it rejects the commercial broadcasting TV models and does not rely on selling advertising space to source revenue. Therefore, it does not interrupt viewers with commercial breaks.

However, in not airing the show at regular intervals, you miss out on the conversations that circulate around a show when everyone sees the same surprises, or endures the same cliffhangers. Finally, not everyone enjoys watching TV on their computers.

Netflix positioning itself as an alternative to cable and satellite television that provides original content obviously isn’t great news for the U.S. and Canadian TV networks. We’re in an era where most of the great TV is on US cable channels such as ACM, HBO and Showtime, rather than the big commercial broadcast networks. Netflix doesn’t look to be a major game-changer just yet; but it does put more pressure on US cable channels to provide quality programs to keep subscribes subscribing.

Selling House of Cards to the Australian market was a slow process, with insiders suggesting the original price was too high. The pay-TV platform will air the first three episodes of the political drama on its showcase broadcast channel on May 7 but also have the first full 13 episodes available for immediate download on its Foxtel Go and Foxtel On Demand services at the same time.

To the delight of its devoted fans, Netflix’s has green lighted a second series of House of Cards.

Serena Walton

The author Serena Walton

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