It really wasn’t that long ago when Netflix was just a bad-ass little service that would send us discs of our favorite movies and television shows in the mail with one to two day turnarounds. The internal debate used to be: Do I sign up for the one disc, three disc, or five disc plan, and I always went with the stupid five-disc plan because there was always the fear that I might burn through three movies (or 18 episodes of a show) and have to wait A WHOLE DAY to get more. Plus, you always had to reserve one spot for that documentary you needed to see that sat on top of the DVD player for six months. But Netflix is basically a network now, with its own programming and what is essentially the best rotation of syndicated content available. With the networks gobbling up all the attention due to pilot season, Netflix (and CEO Reed Hastings) did the rounds yesterday to reclaim some of the press.
Here’s what we learned:
1) According to Reed Hastings, Netflix will not continue Arrested Development after the fourth season. Via the Verge:
The fourth season of Arrested Development as a “fantastic one-off” made possible under “non-repeatable” circumstances. “We don’t anticipate being able to do seasons five, six, seven. We have less of a stake in it,” he said. “Arrested Development is a wildly successful tactic as opposed to fundamental to the strategy.”
A company spokesperson expanded on those words, admitting to The Wall Street Journal that it would prove “extremely difficult to get the cast together” for additional episodes.
2. And yet, on the same press day, a spokesperson for Netflix came out to “clarify” Reed Hastings’ comments, saying that it’s not out of the question. Via Sepinwall:
“We’re hopeful there will be more seasons,” the spokesperson said. “If anyone can pull it together, it’s going to be Ted [Sarandon, the spokesperson for the “Arrested” Revival]. But by no means is this the end of it. We’re definitely planning to do more with them. We have first rights, so it’s not like you’d see it anywhere else. We’re absolutely hopeful there will be more.
I’m guessing that bit of hedge betting was meant to keep interest alive in the fourth season, so that a small fraction of viewers don’t decide against watching it in the event that it’s a dead-end season, and also so that Netflix can keep hope alive for the movie beyond the series. But I would not count on additional Arrested Development after this season unless the series does very, very well, and a lucrative movie package is put together.
3. On the other hand, Hastings wants to also assure viewers (and more importantly, investors) that original programming, like House of Cards and Arrested Development, is not crucial to Netflix. House of Cards, which may be the most watched series on Netflix at the moment, nevertheless makes up a very small percentage of the overall viewership. Most people still use Netflix to catch up on other series and movies (although, the movie selection is increasingly terrible). However, over the next decade, original content could become king. Via Variety:
“[Original content] is not the center of the company,” cautioned Hastings. “It may be the center of the PR for a while and that’s ok but i don’t want you guys to think that suddenly we’re the original content company. Over five years and 10 years we’ll build some really big franchises,” predicted Hastings. “It could become quite material but as of today think of it as a confirming down payment as opposed to an inflection point where with one season of one show we’ve changed everything.”
4. Speaking of House of Cards, the Times also ran a piece on how Netflix knew it’d be a hit before they picked it up based on their own data mining. They knew that Kevin Spacey movies did well on the service, that David Fincher’s Social Network was a hit, and that the British version of House of Cards was very popular on Netflix, so the success of the American series was all but inevitable. Netflix has a lot of data to work with, including “30 million ‘plays’ a day, including when you pause, rewind and fast forward, four million ratings by Netflix subscribers, three million searches as well as the time of day when shows are watched and on what devices.” Of course, John Landgraf, the president of FX and the king of content, says that data mining is not that important.
FX Networks, has had a good run at the channel in finding hits, said he thought numbers-crunching would never have predicted the success of “The Sopranos,” “South Park,” and “Mad Men,” among others, including hits he has said yes to, like “Sons of Anarchy.”
“Data can only tell you what people have liked before, not what they don’t know they are going to like in the future,” he said. “A good high-end programmer’s job is to find the white spaces in our collective psyche that aren’t filled by an existing television show,” adding, those choices were made “in a black box that data can never penetrate.”
Thank you, Landgraf, for that bit of common sense. Knowing when someone pauses is not likely to lead to the next Breaking Bad.
5) Finally, right after the Oscars, Netflix has decided to create their own awards, The Flixies, which will undoubtedly be part of their data mining makeup. The Flixies can be voted on by both subscribers and non-subscribers, and you can vote in categories such as Best Marathon (Breaking Bad!), Best PMS Drama (Friday Night Lights), Best Guilty Pleasure, Best Bromance, and Best Tantrum. I am offended that Teen Wolf is a choice in the Guilty Pleasure category, however, because there is nothing guilty about loving that film.