Chris Reed
Feb 22, 2013

Netflix’s 'House of Cards': Ace content or a busted flush?

Netflix’s unique content play, “House of Cards”, starring Kevin Spacey, has satisfied its subscriber base in the US according to a small survey by Cowen. It has also made their subscribers more loyal.

Netflix’s 'House of Cards': Ace content or a busted flush?

However it failed to take off from a word of mouth perspective and the content was mediocre rather than exceptional. In light of this both move from Netflix what is the future of content v’s distribution channels in the digital age and who will gain the most from this change in dynamics?

It’s interesting to read the reaction of subscribers of Netflix to the 13 episode marathon of House of Cards, seemingly oblivious that it was based on a UK book, 4 part series and political system from the nineties. Having seen both I can tell you that the UK’s “House of Cards” starring Ian Richardson was far and away superior to the over lengthy, over dialogued, over acted and sometimes completely irrelevant American version.

According to the Cowen survey the average that people watched was just 6 of the 13 episodes and I can understand why. I was losing the will to live during some of the irrelevant plots as I knew the story and felt that their dramatization of it did the brand, storyline and stars no favours.

Netflix also appears to have completely changed major parts of the series making it so dissimilar to the original that it was like watching a completely new story but far more inferior. Spacey doesn’t rescue the story and is half as evil and Machiavellian as Richardson in the original. But what do Netflix customers think?


The survey revealed that around 10% of Netflix subscribers watched at least one of the episodes. Only 34% were aware of Netflix’s unique content though. The average time a Netflix customer spends watching Netflix is 6.5hours. Interestingly 23% of respondents had cancelled their account, a very high figure. These people had cancelled a Netflix account actually watched more, 8.5 hours…The more they watch the more they cancel their accounts!

The survey contained a warning from 68% of people questioned who said that if Netflix increased their fees in the US they would also cancel.  Consequently the need for unique content to keep people from switching is being more important to subscriber content brands like Netflix. Of those who watched House of Cards only 36% called it exceptional, while another 40% said it was good. For $100m surely those figures should be higher?

Ultimately the quality of the content will make this original production strategy of Netflix live or die.

Interestingly by releasing all 13 episodes in one go Netflix lost out in the word of mouth/chatting around the water cooler effect. Twitter discussions about House of Cards peaked on the first day and fell away every day after that. Customers have been able to gorge on the 13 episodes all at one time, although many watched two at a time as more would be coma inducing.

However this way of watching meant that there was no social media discussion on line or in offices about what happens next and excited discussion about every future episode. In many classic series the momentum builds to the season finale where viewing peaks as does media PR, interest and audience anticipation. Ironically the reverse appears to have happened to Netflix’s “House of Cards”. Viewers didn’t look forward and although there was plenty of discussion on social media about the series it faded rather than built up over time. If it was any consolation to those who only watched 6 episodes they didn’t miss anything from the “finale” as it didn’t tie up any kind of story ends as the original did its 4th episode climax.


Ultimately this will live and die on the customer satisfaction though.

Creating your own content is not new only to Netflix. Every major media brand is trying to do the same thing increasing the pressure on traditional content producing studios such as the BBC and Time Warner who are the traditional rights holders and broadcasters of such content. Amazon, Hulu (News Corp/Disney/NBC Universal owned), YouTube, Yahoo, Intel, Apple and Microsoft XBOX are all getting in on the act.

HBO and Showtime are the benchmark for quality drama. Brands like must-see Game of Thrones and the Sopranos are the ultimate talked about content that can make or break a viewing channel.

House of Cards cost Netflix US$100m so the stakes are clearly huge.  The other rival distributors are all now creating their own studios and effectively competing with the existing studios, turning the current content supply system on its head.


Amazon appear to be the most aggressive. They are planning to air 11 original pilot episodes before deciding which ones to produce. Amazon have 48 films/TV shows in production for their Prime subscribers to stream, competing heavily with the major TV channels in the States and elsewhere including brands like HBO.

If you can own both content and distribution as NewsCorp do for example you have so much more power and consequently revenue generating opportunities. More importantly you are able to keep viewers from going elsewhere. Loyalty is money. Let battle commence.

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