On Friday, Netflix will release a drama expressly designed to be consumed in one sitting: “House of Cards,” a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Rather than introducing one episode a week, as distributors have done since the days of black-and-white TVs, all 13 episodes will be streamed at the same time. “Our goal is to shut down a portion of America for a whole day,” the producer Beau Willimon said with a laugh.
“House of Cards,” which is the first show made specifically for Netflix, dispenses with some of the traditions that are so common on network TV, like flashbacks. There is less reason to remind viewers what happened in previous episodes, the producers say, because so many viewers will have just seen it. And if they don’t remember, Google is just a click away.
The story is here. You can buy an entire book at once, as serialization — while not dead — has ceased to be the norm for long novels. At MOMA they do not run an art exhibit by putting up one new van Gogh painting each day. Coursera, you will note, still uses a kind of serialization model for its classes rather than putting up all the lectures at once; presumably it wishes to synchronize student participation plus it often delivers the content in real time. Sushi is served sequentially, even though several cold courses presumably could be carried over at once. Still, a plate in an omakase experience typically has more than one piece of fish.
For TV I do not think upfront bingeing can become the norm. The model of “I don’t really care about this, but I have nothing much to talk to you about, so let’s sit together and drop commentary on some semi-randomly chosen TV show” seems to work less well when the natural unit of the show is thirteen episodes and you are expected to show dedication.
Ad-financed shows — still a clear majority of viewing — may prefer to have impressions from the ads spread out over weeks and months rather than concentrated in one long marathon sitting. Furthermore the show itself relies more heavily on an effective and immediate burst of concentrated marketing, with little room to build word of mouth and roll out a campaign with stages. That intense publicity can be achieved the first time this model is tried, as everyone will write about the novelty, but it will be harder to summon up interest for successive experiments in this format.
I do not myself enjoy the marathon approach to TV shows, as I prefer to ponder the episodes over weeks, months, or years. I rebel against watching even two episodes in a row, no matter how much I enjoy the program. Nonetheless I hope this model succeeds, as I have the self-control to watch only one episode a week or at some otherwise chosen regular pace.