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Is Netflix’s original programming strategy a game-changer?

By now you’ve probably heard the news: Netflix has decided to enter the original programming world. Not only that, but the king of online movie distribution is doing it through a $100-million deal, scoring House of Cards (one of the most sought-out cable pilots) with a 2-season/24-episode order.

It’s certainly impressive, and pretty much unheard of, but why can this move be considered a game-changer?

First, the fact that Netflix is doing original programming is, by itself, a major decision, and dare I say a major shake-up in the peaceful realm of the television industry.
An outside entity getting on TV’s turf by pulling the rug out from their feet? They’re a distribution outlet, not a content developer. Surely this is tantamount to iTunes making shows of their own, right?
Well the truth is that we’ve now moved beyond all of that.
Do you remember The Outer Limits‘ opening credits? “We control the horizontal and the vertical.”
I could write a thousand pages describing how “the Internet” or “YouTube” or “the writers’ strike” changed the way “television” is “made,” but the bottom line is that the standard TV business model is slowly eroding away. We’re now angling towards an endless array of verticals and horizontals. The latest example being Comcast buying up NBC/Universal. The “input” and “output” tubes are starting to fuse themselves together into an endless loop.
Scary, huh?
So we have Netflix, which controls 61% of movie streaming and is literally getting a dedicated button on your remote control, who is now moving beyond its distribution model to become a content creator–nay, a premium content creator and provider.
I’d say that’s one major step towards the future of television.

Now there’s also the problem of the content itself. Netflix went with House of Cards; in other words, this is a very high-profile cable drama.
The message is clear: You don’t have to be HBO to provide epic premium content.
It’s not only about making original content, it’s about making original premium content that can rival cable.
Is cable really in competition with online distribution outlets?
That’s still up to debate, although Netflix clearly thinks so.
“But they don’t have development executive” you say. Well that may be true, but I’m still waiting to see Netflix’s exec pyramid to validate that statement. They’ll probably create a dedicated department in the next few weeks.
Regardless, seeing as this is their first original venture, and the way they acquired the project, I’m willing to bet that they’re more than willing to give some artistic freedom.
After all, we’re not talking about a project by unknowns here. House of Cards is a respected foreign property drama and has established auspices (Fincher/Spacey). Plus we have MRC, which has a decent track record, but more importantly everything to prove. It’s probable that they’ll be the ones more involved in the creative process.
And will House of Cards be eligible for an Emmy?

Finally, we have the deal itself. A two-season order is nowadays virtually unheard of.
As Nellie Andreeva pointed out in her article:

AMC went straight to series on The Walking Dead but with a modest six-episode order. Rome and Fox’s CGI extravaganza Terra Nova started off with 13-episode orders. Starz, which has been going straight-to-series with its dramas, ordered 10 episodes of Camelot and 8 of Boss.

Although still unknown, the distribution model of these 24 episodes will probably be by itself somewhat of a revolution (at least for that type of content).
Will it be VOD-only? Will DVDs be mailed out? How about the marketing campaign?
Everything needs to be defined. Or rather redefined, since this is after all a TV series we’re talking about.
Change is afoot.
The fact that Netflix spent $100 million to acquire the project is them basically thumbing their nose at cable.
Had AMC or HBO acquired the project, it certainly would have kept its appeal, but beyond its artistic value, the fact that Netflix is developing it is much more alluring.
House of Cards is now a big fish in a small pond–which is about to get enormous.

Of course, at the end of the day (or rather months to come), all of this might end up being a catastrophic failure. Nobody watches the show and millions have been spent for nothing.
I personally believe though that it’s going to work out on all fronts.
And if anything, this will at least usher in a new era; that of premium original content not originating from the standard black box, but from an entirely different mode of distribution.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

One final question remains: Will House of Cards be eligible for an Emmy?

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