Though I haven’t watched House of Cards yet (no spoilers!), I’ve followed the viewing behaviors and studies around the show extensively, and have come to an interesting conclusion: I believe, fundamentally, that shows should not be released all at once for optimal viewing. Instead, my proposal would be a monthly release cycle of 4 episodes per month, followed by a season finale. Let me also state I’m a *huge* Netflix fan and supporter, so this isn’t intended as criticism of that company – this is uncharted territory and the company must be applauded for their (expensive) risk-taking.
For backgrounder, here are some stats (not necessarily accurate) on per-episode viewing and others on overall Netflix traffic during opening weekend. The TL;DR version of them is that Netflix did not experience an overall bump in usage – in effect House of Cards cannibalized against other Netflix traffic, not against live TV watching. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all, though I’m sure they’d prefer to have eaten away at primetime content. I’d postulate that perhaps a weekend launch wasn’t the right timing, and a mid-week release cycle of 4 episodes could have had a better impact.
Next, the waiting cycle. I have a few friends who’ve binged the whole season already (as did TheVerge apparently), all of whom loved it, and are now waiting for a year to get the next season. With any other show, the typical cycle is watch one, wait a week, get a new one. That said, many shows really benefit from being able to watch more than one in a row (especially shows with a lot of nuance, such as my personal favorite Arrested Development), so there’s clearly value in the batch release. If 4 episodes came out once a month, the audience would get the recurring sip of nectar whilst also enjoying the back-to-back viewing.
Next, there’s a lack of scarcity being created here. There’s no anticipation, no wait, no build-up – until next year. This basically benefits Netflix only once annually, whereas with a high quality show like House of Cards, they could see the uptake in “water cooler” effects on a monthly basis. And the season finale would be “an event” as opposed to an utter non-event like it is now. There’s no social pressure, no “OMG That Happened!?!” moment possible amongst any group of people. In fact, there’s literally nothing tying together any form of a “community” around the show. A cycle would help this immensely.
So overall, I think that the “all at once” model is a great experiment, but one that certainly doesn’t “break” anything about TV. I believe some shows deserve the weekly treatment (especially genres like traditional sitcoms, reality shows, etc), and others would be great with a monthly batch. Personally, I find some shows have their own rhythms – I am catching up on The Wire only once every week or two specifically to savor the sweet deliciousness of that awesome show. Let’s see what happens with House of Cards for Season 2.