In a sign of the increasingly competitive nature of the internet television market, movie rental giant Netflix has now turned its attention to developing original content, namely, the new series from The Social Network director, David Fincher.
Netflix, the company that shall be known forevermore as "Slayer of Blockbusters" has seen the writing on the wall, and that writing says that distributing content is great, but owning it is better. Having paid increasingly high fees to first, distribute DVD movies and TV shows and then stream them instantly, the rental king is now looking for content it can own, as well as distribute. First up: House of Cards, the television series under development by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey.
Netflix appears to be willing to pay more than $100 million for distribution rights for a full order of two seasons, 26 episodes, of the political thriller based on a British miniseries. According to deadline.com, such a deal is almost unheard of, seeing as most cable and television networks first request a pilot before buying just a single season of a series. HBO's Rome and The Walking Dead are high-profile exceptions, but in the case of The Walking Dead, AMC ordered only six episodes and are now scrambling to run more.
While the move is sure to generate a lot of interest in Netflix, and will definitely signal to traditional media outlets that the upstart is a force to be reckoned with, it could be a costly maneuver. As Venturebeat's Dean Takahashi writes, citing the decline of ratings for cable programming network HBO after the end of The Sopranos, "content is a game where you go big or go home." Buying a fresh off-the-shelf television series made by a director fresh out of the Oscar spotlight is certainly a big play. Whether the would-be network will bring it home, however, remains to be seen.
While none of the principals involved would comment (to anyone) on the story, the Wall Street Journal reports that Spacey's representatives at least confirmed that the discussions were taking place. According to the rumors, Netflix would own the rights to distribute the first run of the series through it's variety of "instant" services, although the producers would still be able air the series later on other networks, or offer DVDs.
It's interesting to see Netflix grow so quickly from a fledgling DVD-by-mail rental service to shaking the pillars of the entertainment industry, even if the move represents a further fragmentation of what used to be a relatively stable (and predictable) business. More choice will always represent more opportunity for the consumer, but if the continuing fragmentation of the entertainment landscape should at some point present the opportunity of total exclusivity, it could spell a bad turn for consumers. If your choices, in other words, are to pay for Netflix Instant in order to watch House of Cards or never see it at all, there's a good chance most viewers will opt to forgo the series in spite of existing intent. As exciting as it is to see genuinely awesome services like Netflix move into bold new territory, a future in which fragmentation becomes so complete so as to exclude viewers based on buy-in would be a sorry end for the new media revolution.