Building a solid foundation from a House of Cards

Media is changing. Well, not exactly. People are consuming media differently, but no one seems to notice. Appointment television (i.e getting home by 7 to catch the new Friends episode) has become binge TV — people want to sit down and digest entire seasons of a show at once. However, traditional broadcast institutions are built on antiquated business models and thus threatened by change. In the past they could dictate how people consumed media because they controlled it. Between torrents and DVRs, the masses started to take control of what they watched and when they watched it. Rather than capitalizing on these shifts, the establishment railed against them and tried to shut the whole thing down.

Now, companies like Netflix and Amazon allow people to control their consumption on their own terms, and Netflix has taken this a step further creating content that takes full advantage of the platform. If Netflix knows anything, it is what you watch and how you watch it.

The Netflix original series “House Of Cards” is an amazing production on many levels. Sure, television networks have cranked out some winners over the years like West Wing and Sex And The City, but mostly it is endless mediocrity and disappointment based on the premise that people are stupid have nothing better to do than arrange their lives around what the broadcasting conglomerates bestow upon us so they can sell advertising for products no one needs.

With “House Of Cards,” Netflix started with its audience — people who watch movies and expect movie-level production quality and dialog; and its platform — digital downloads that eschew traditional advertising-imposed length limitations. Rather than a 41 minute episode, House of Cards is split into chapters that are just as long or short as is required to tell the story. And like a movie, the entire 13-chapter season was released all at once so viewers could gorge themselves on its greatness.

House of Cards is in no way a shot across the bow of studios that supply the drivel that graces broadcast airwaves. The cost of creating amazing content is many times that of licensing content, which is Netflix’s bread and butter. Besides, studios are not going to license their content to a company that is acting like a competitor. Beyond the great writing, edgy cinematography, and a storyline that no network executive would approve for a borderline illiterate audience, “House Of Cards” is a wakeup call. Netflix made the show that even HBO wouldn’t, and distributed it in a way even torrents can’t touch. This compared with Hulu, which really is old media, shined up and placed on a new shelf. The programming model is the same and even the original programming is unoriginal.

If nothing else, networks need to realize that they are no longer competing for time slots or who is the king of Thursday night. Instead, they are competing for your free time, and the power to decide what you watch rests in your hands. While “House Of Cards” perhaps refers to what its characters are building, the name could just as easily refer to the old media empire that itself has become a house of cards.

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