The Online TV Future Is Now! Or Next Year

This has to be considered worth a link: Netflix is outbidding HBO and AMC for David Fincher and Kevin Spacey’s remake of the British series House of Cards, which has already been picked up for more episodes than all the BBC series based on that character (a Richard III-esque Tory minister) combined. This is Netflix’s move into original programming, which we all had to know was coming — to the U.S., anyway; who knows about Canada — but which obviously is big news now that it’s actually been announced. Already the Deadline comments section is filled with dreams of a future without executive interference, where the magic of the internet will bring uncompromised, sure-to-be-taken-seriously programming directly to the consumers.

I don’t want to sound flippant about this. I think we have to assume that, somehow or other, streaming will eventually displace much of the regular TV model. TV isn’t like radio, which you can leave on while you’re driving without crashing the car, and it’s not an outing like going to the movies. Much of the TV experience can be replaced by the same thing in a more convenient (i.e. on-demand) form, and if something can be replaced it probably will be. It’ll take a long time, but it’ll happen. Other preliminary thoughts:

1) For now, Netflix is explicitly basing its original programming on the HBO model: make your money off movie reruns and put some of that money into very prestigious original content that is all but guaranteed to get good reviews. It’s not taking on broadcast TV exactly, not yet, and for now it almost seems like this could be another step in cable networks fighting over a shrinking pie — HBO has the most to fear from Netflix and its “premium content.” Broadcast will take it on the chin too, but not as immediately, and will still have that weird advantage of being the closest thing to a mass-audience world while cable and online fight over the niche markets.

2) I have no idea what the future of TV will be like, but the two basic laws of entertainment — raising money entails compromise; 90% of everything is crap — suggest that a change in model will not lead to a huge overall improvement in quality. However, when a content provider gets in the game for the first time, there’s sometimes a seeming violation of Sturgeon’s law, as some of the best people in the business flock to that provider with ideas that couldn’t get made before. Being almost a pre-packaged property, House of Cards is not that good an indicator of what kind of producer Netflix will be; the interesting thing will be to see whether they attract any Sopranoses or Mad Mens, the kind of projects that got made soon after HBO and AMC got interested in the original drama business.

3) Ian Richardson was awesome in the original BBC trilogy of House of Cards miniseries. I wonder if the U.S. remake will keep the device of talking to the viewers.

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