Netflix really are taking an enormous risk with their $100m new series, House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey. Yes, it's got a brilliant cast, and yes, it's probably a great watch. But, releasing the entire season at once changes something fundamental about a plot that is driven by intrigue and suspense, which, as a political drama, it almost definitely is.
Part of the appeal and addictive quality of drama is the frustrating wait until the next episode. In other drama series on television now and historically, Lost, Breaking Bad, Desperate Housewives and The Sopranos for example, the anticipation for the following episode has an entire week to manifest itself in its complete, most acute form. Millions tuned in because it was must-see television. In many respects, by having an entire series at once (or the first thirteen episode as with House of Cards) that kind of emotional momentum doesn't really have the time to build up and make a distinct and lasting impression.
Furthermore, it's not merely the anticipation that makes a show exciting, it's also the interaction it creates with friends and family and in various other social networks. As a series has the opportunity to develop over time, everyone sees it at roughly the same rate. Friends discuss it, make predictions, become emotionally attached to characters within the drama, based often on the biases of peers. Not everyone has thirteen hours available at once, and no one has the same time constraints. But if viewing is not largely essential at a specific time, then time may simply not be made for what's optional from the get go.
According to Spacey, the entire move to immediate on-demand services is a "new paradigm". As USA Today reports, he expects "other companies that have done very well as portals for content start to make their own content and want to compete. Whether or not we're a big splash or we're at the beginning of something, I do think that's where things are headed." He may not be wrong... in the long run. Audiences are increasingly looking for more control over their viewing, which is why many on-demand services have, so quickly, forged themselves a spacious niche within the industry, but, depending on the outcome and success of House of Cards, Netflix may have to reconsider their distribution techniques and schedules.