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House of Cards House of Cards

Confessions of a binge viewer: how technology took the cliffhanger waiting period away

House of Cards

I can’t wait until House of Cards, Netflix’ award-winning series, comes to an end. When the final season is announced and the final episode approaches, I’ll begin watching the series.

At this point, I know nothing about it other than it stars Kevin Spacey and has received unexpected praise from critics and viewers alike. I couldn’t even tell you what the premise behind the show is. In fact, I’ve shielded myself and my wife from anything that hints about it at all. This is the power of the digital age. You don’t need to keep up with a show if you’re like us. We’re binge viewers.

It started with Lost, the popular ABC supernatural drama that we watched exclusively through Hulu until the final episodes. It was wonderful, particularly for a show like that because it’s filled with cliffhangers and shocking endings to many of the episodes. We don’t like to wait.

Since then, we no longer watch any series until the end.

This is the power and the weakness of services like Netflix. On one hand, their original programming can be appealing in that it allows viewers to watch it on their own terms. When, where, on which medium – all are controlled by the viewer. This is possible for just about any television series (though some require illegal downloading to make it work out right) but there’s something about an original series on one of the pioneers of modern media consumption that makes House of Cards special.

As Spacey puts it, television has entered a new golden age.

“Our challenge now is to keep the flame of this revolutionary programming alive by continuing to seek out new talent, nurture it, encourage it, challenge it, give it home and the kind of autonomy that the past and present … has proved it deserves,” he told the audience of TV executives at the Edinburgh Television Festival.

This golden age does not come without a price. Netflix is learning the hard way that their hope for a more stable expenditure model isn’t working out the way they expected specifically because of people like me.

According to Variety, it may even rock their stock:

How’s that for irony: Netflix, which fancies itself a revolutionary in the TV business, may be forced to bring itself in line with traditional industry bean-counting precisely because of its boldest practice.

You can’t blame them for success and you shouldn’t penalize them for not getting the accounting exactly right on such a new paradigm for entertainment, but that won’t change the minds of shareholders who fear what this will do to their stock prices and payouts.

None of this matters to a viewer like me. Regardless whether it’s Breaking Bad or House of Cards, we don’t want to wait for the answer to last episode’s question. We don’t want a cliffhanger hanging over us for more than a few minutes. We want to experience the shows from start to finish as quickly as possible. We’ve discovered that it enhances the experience and it suits us just fine. We’re not alone.

As technology continues to give us new ways to consume our entertainment, it also raising challenges in the way to monetize it. They have shown that it’s possible to make money with the model, but will it be enough to cover the expenses upfront in an industry that is ready to tell them, “we told you so,” and in a time when stockholders have portfolio ADHD?

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