Was releasing “House of Cards” all at once smart?

Yesterday on TWiT, the panel talked about “House of Cards”, the new Netflix exclusive political drama starring Kevin Spacey. Netflix is a video on demand service and they might be reinventing TV production and scheduling.

“House of Cards”, an original Netflix series with Kevin Spacey

On traditional TV, shows are usually released one episode per week. And all the episodes have to be the same length to fit the channel’s schedule.

In “House of Cards”, the fact that is it is video on demand frees the creators from these constraints. Each episode is, according to Brian Brushwood on TWiT #391, a different length. Moreover, they reveal the episodes all at once because the vast majority of TV show fans happen to be bingers.

Is it all positive?

The liberation from scheduling constraints is unequivocally positive as it will save us the filler montages à la Baywatch. However, the fact that they release it all at once could limit the cultural relevance of shows. Evenly spaced releases stroke the fires of conversation and ensure that viewers are all on the same page. These advantages might go away.
During TWiT, this change has been compared to the transition between installment-based novel releases in the 19th century and how publishers release novels all at once now.

Long tail

Whereas the 19th century oeuvres had to be printed on limited amounts of paper, the digital files can be copied cheaply over the internet. They can, therefore, sell and make profits for all eternity.

In one of his longer posts, Seth Godin makes a clear distinction between backlist and frontlist. On the one hand, just-released products garner all the attention and constitute the frontlist. On the other hand, the backlist of older products, says he, is where the real profits are made. So, tending to your backlist, growing it and using it –in turn — to grow your audience makes lots of sense.

With regards to Netflix’ strategy, the novelty of their approach makes their release into an event. When the novelty wears off, will their series continue to grab the public’s attention as efficiently? I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.