Netflix's 'House of Cards' Makes Emmy History -- But Who Exactly Was Watching?

Netflix’s “House of Cards” series has achieved two milestones: the first online show to get Emmy nominations, and the first show in memory so honored without knowing how many viewers have been watching.

With nominated cable shows like HBO’s “The Sopranos” and AMC’s “Mad Men,” for example, business analysts knew how many people had generally watched the shows.

Is that important? Yes and no. Good shows aren’t dependent on the amount of people who watch (though that can be the key to survival). “The Sopranos” could get 13 million-plus viewers and “Mad Men” 3.5 million-plus. “House of Cards”? We have no clue. Netflix isn’t playing the usual TV viewership numbers game.

Entertainment awards are not dependent on popularity. Yet the picture seems incomplete for some. Can someone say, “This is a really good TV show that no one has seen”?



Marketing-wise, Emmy nominations and, of course, the awards themselves, are great promotion for any show, and for the still-growing Netflix. The nominations will no doubt yield higher viewing for the series and, as noted by “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey, will give services like Netflix the ability to supply more actors, writers and producers with a place to do quality work.

Much the same argument has been made about HBO, which, somewhat lost in the headlines, again pulled in the most nominations of any network with 108. Netflix had a total of 14. (CBS and NBC tied for second place with 53 nominations each.)

As with Netflix, HBO can give talent incredible creative freedom, all of which can yield top-quality work.

Think about where all this might lead. With rapid fractionalization of TV viewing and perhaps a sharp rise in the number of shows from cable, online, and otherwise, Emmy nominators and voters might someday honor scores of different kinds of shows without knowing much beyond a few in-season critic reviews.

For sure, the Emmys and other award recognitions will generate much interest in those somewhat smaller shows after the fact -- if we haven’t already been tweaked by our friends and acquaintances through all sorts of social media platforms or been recommended to view them by newfangled TV search services.

2 comments about "Netflix's 'House of Cards' Makes Emmy History -- But Who Exactly Was Watching?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 19, 2013 at 2:21 p.m.

    Nobody much watches PBS either, but who would complain about it getting an Emmy nomination? Audience size, or lack of information about same, is not relevant to quality. (PBS hides its audience size by touting cumes instead.) I watched House of Cards, and it was magnificent television. Spacey deserves to win. Yes, I watched it on a big TV set through my Netflix window via TiVo, but I think it qualifies as TV even had I watched it on my laptop. Just as HBO and cable marginalized the big-4 networks, so too will streaming television. I look forward to the day when a YouTube series wins an Emmy and a Peabody. TV is TV, no matter where you watch it. Embrace the future and quit quibbling about ratings and shares.

  2. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, July 22, 2013 at 10:56 a.m.

    Lack of information on viewership does not equate to no audience. I devoured House of Cards through Netflix on my AppleTV. As did several of my friends with whom I seemed to be in a race to see who could finish first and know what happened before the others. It was a great show. And releasing it all at once without stretching it out over a season, that was genius on Netflix's part. Looking forward to season 2!

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