Not long ago, a television premiere presented something much different than what it is today. If you missed an episode when it first aired, you might never see it again. But gone are the days of the urgency when it came to catching “Dallas,” a popular soap opera that debuted in the 1970s. Some may say television viewing was once a more communal experience, as people would tune in without being distracted by their Twitter feeds. Those detractors likely include television network executives who do not approve of television’s rapid digitalization.
Instant-viewing platforms are evolving faster than their creators know how to respond. Netflix began as a company that strictly rented existing and already-released films and television shows to subscribers. Now the company has signed on to produce major original projects, such as David Fincher’s “House of Cards,” starring Kevin Spacey, and the highly anticipated return of “Arrested Development” through Netflix Instant, the online component of Netflix’s popular rental service.
One might expect shows premiering online to garner low ratings and to only slowly increase in popularity, largely due to the difficulty of introducing viewers to a new network. However, previously unknown low-rated networks that produce quality content have already broken this boundary. Such networks include AMC — as evidenced by the success of “The Walking Dead” — and PBS, with “Downton Abbey.” Buzz about Netflix shows has continued to mount, and, contrary to expectations, these show may record high ratings immediately.
Regardless of its viewership, Netflix’s new approach will leave a positive mark on the history of television due to its ability to allow for more creative content than previously possible. Netflix is not bound by any of the constraints networks face, which gives them more freedom from FCC censorship. “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” are critical for Netflix, as the company must use these original projects to brand itself as a content provider that can offer something different from the content produced by networks like HBO and AMC.
Even if the content weren’t promising enough, Netflix is already off to a good start with the way it will release its shows. Instead of maintaining the old one-episode-per-week series model, Netflix has chosen to post all episodes at once to target the 18-34 digital demographic, an age group that has no qualms about engaging in “television binging” — watching an entire television series in a short period of time.
There is a definite chance this instant gratification will burn out show buzz, but Netflix and the showrunners behind their content are aware of this problem, and are willing to take the risk. It is likely a risk that will ultimately pay off brilliantly, and one that will put them far ahead of any normal network on air today.
Monica Skoko is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]