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With 'House of Cards,' is it better to binge or nibble?

Analysis

April 08, 2013|By Joe Flint
  • To binge, or to nibble, that is the question. Kevin Spacey stars in "House of Cards."
To binge, or to nibble, that is the question. Kevin Spacey stars in "House… (Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix )

You've heard of binge-viewing? That's when people consume multiple episodes of the same television show in one sitting.

Netflix has embraced binge-viewing as a business strategy. When it released its first original drama, the political thriller "House of Cards" starring Kevin Spacey on Feb. 1, it made all 13 episodes available at once. Netflix will do the same with "Arrested Development" this Memorial Day weekend when it will release 15 new episodes of the cult hit at the same time.

Certainly a strong case can be made that this approach is the ultimate in giving the customer what they want. Rather than have to wait a whole week for the next episode of "House of Cards," viewers could plow through the entire season on their own schedule.

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Some TV reporters even turned watching "House of Cards" into an eating contest of sorts.

And a few were left feeling woozy afterward.

"You were childish, eating all of your Halloween candy in one sitting and now stuck with a stomach ache and an empty Pumpkin-shaped basket," Variety reporter AJ Marechal jokingly wrote of her own "House of Cards" hangover.

Not everyone gorged on "House of Cards." I embraced a "nibble viewing" approach and finally finished watching the entire season the other day. After I shared my accomplishment on Twitter, BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield tweeted to me that I represented the brilliance of the Netflix strategy. 

"The consumer for the 1st time in TV history is in complete control," he said.

That may be, but I couldn't help wonder if Netflix's all-at-once approach wasn't leaving some promotional and marketing opportunities on the table that could have boosted interest in the show in the long run.

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One advantage to the tried-and-true method of scheduled programming is that the shared viewing experience can boost awareness for a show. If everyone is watching on the same schedule, everyone is on the same page in the story. Look at all the next-day analysis HBO's "Girls" or Showtime's "Homeland" gets on social media. We're all at the same party, and those that aren't suddenly want to crash it.

From a marketing standpoint, releasing all the episodes at once eliminates the ability to promote the show on a week-by-week basis. Watch how much hype each episode of "Mad Men" will get over the next two months. "House of Cards" sacrificed that in favor of one bite at the apple.

For example (spoiler alert!) the episode about the demise of the Peter Russo character was an OMG moment. But with everyone watching on their own clock, there was no collective gasp from the public. There weren't a slew of stories in advance of the "House of Cards" season finale, nor were there additonal reviews of the show as the season wore on.

Since Netflix is staying mum on how many people viewed "House of Cards," it is impossible to make a determination if releasing all the episodes at once was the best strategy. Certainly Netflix didn't require people to watch all 13 in a compressed window. Netflix would also argue that, like a bookstore, it doesn't matter when you read the book as long as you buy it.

But perhaps releasing, say, three episodes a week would have satisfied the binger and allowed the show a greater opportuity to take advantage of both social and traditional media, and potentially increase viewership in the long run.

And, as Marechal noted, there would be fewer people "regretting your decision to hole up in your bedroom with your laptop for hours on end. What could you have accomplished this weekend that you neglected because of Kevin Spacey?"

ALSO:

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Binge-viewing is transforming the television experience

Netflix to unveil new "Arrested Development" episodes on May 26

Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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