Netflix is trying to change the face of television, and it's the toast of the internet with successful, original shows like House of Cards and the upcoming season of Arrested Development. Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer at Netflix, is understandably pleased with all the attention.
He said today that House of Cards is "the most-watched thing on Netflix right now." He wouldn't give specific ratings, however, arguing that it was an "apples and oranges" comparison to networks. In fact, he says that he "has no motivation to do it," since he doesn't sell advertising. He believes that viewership of the show will only grow over time, too, despite it's unconventional release schedule. He says that even though Netflix put all of the episodes out at once, "it's still watercooler" chatter. It creates "a whole other etiquette" around discussing shows and potentially spoiling plot points. "We're not encouraging people to binge," Sarandos says, but thinks the show works better when watching one or two at a time.
"What we're doing is radically different than any [other] kind of television, including HBO."
Asked about HBO's decision not to drop an entire season in one go, Sarandos defended Netflix's decision. It means that there is less need for "exposition and catch-up and fake cliff-hangers" that provide context for viewers who haven't watched the last episode for a week. He compared the season to music albums or books, which are also released in a single spot. Sarantos says that he's not trying to "dismantle" television, but to evolve it. "What we're doing is radically different than any [other] kind of television, including HBO."
Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development and Will Arnett, one of the actors on the show, took the stage at Dive into Media, and described the process for bringing the show to Netflix. Hurwitz said that airing all the shows at once gave the show's producers more creative freedom — they're able to take shots from one episode's cutting room floor and use them in a later episode more easily, for example.
"We are the poster child for Netflix."
"In many ways, we are the poster child for Netflix," Hurwitz said. The ways that the show do small jokes and "twists on twists" work better for a dedicated audience who is paying attention, he argues. Getting the show back was difficult. After the show ended its broadcast run, the owners literally "sold the banana stand" along with the rest of the set and even the famous Segway from the show.
Arnett says that Netflix is good for actors, too. "They're allowing the creative community to do what they do best." He says it's more than just making shows "for the internet," because Netflix knows (and more importantly, has) Arrested Development's audience. Hurwitz followed along the same thing, saying that Netflix didn't intercede in the creative development of the show as much as is common in the traditional system.
With two big-name shows under its belt, is Netflix in this content-creation business for the long haul? Sarandos says yes, he will keep making original shows — and that they're helpful in "pushing the envelope for exclusivity" when working with studios to get shows that Netflix didn't produce. Sarandos says that these new original productions won't mean more expensive subscription feeds, thanks to Netflix's scale.
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