The point of online television, or IPTV, was that it fitted perfectly in to the way people now consume their favourite shows and movies -- at a time (and often in a place) that suits them. Hence, a fifth of television is now consumed "non-live." Netflix's CEO has been particularly vocal that the traditional model is ripe for replacement, even for non-linear viewing through a personal recording device, such as a Sky+ box. Sign up to Netflix and you invariably end up doing what everyone else does. You binge on the online equivalent of a box set, foresaking what is being broadcast for what you can watch on demand over an Internet connection with no need to look at schedules and hit record.
So it was interesting to read when the new season of "House Of Cards" was announced that all episodes would be made simultaneously so anyone with strong coffee and matches to keep their eyes open could watch the series in one marathon session, should they so wish. While you might wonder whether that could mean having to avoid social media and any other form of human contact for fear of spoilers, it also felt kind of reassuring. Netflix is here to revolutionise traditional television viewing, so why not launch a season in one fell swoop? Plus, let's face it -- everyone in the UK was jubilant to not be placed behind our American cousins who generally, for some bizarre reason given that we're in the age of instant communications, still always get shows and movies months before Europe.
So, all seemed well and good. Non-linear television was the way forward, we'd paid our subscription, and the new season would be ours to watch when we like.
Then, yesterday, we get news that the highly anticipated prequel to the addictive "Breaking Bad" (if you'll pardon the pun) will be launched on February the 9th, with the next episode a day later. That seemed a little odd, but then the news that the remaining shows will be aired in order every Tuesday sounded a bit like traditional television.
Talk about mixed messages. On the one hand we have "House of Cards" on tap, while "Better Call Saul" will be drip fed each Tuesday, in exactly the same way as a broadcaster would air it. Okay -- so we can watch it when we like, but then one press of a button on my Sky+ remote, or smartphone app, and I could say exactly the same for anything broadcast to my television screen traditionally.
I suspect the point here is subscriptions. Like just about every other Netflix subscriber I know, I'd recently considered quitting because of the months of waiting between the last season of "House of Cards" and news about the next airing, and my wife and I had finally watched our way through the back catalogue of "Breaking Bad," nearly a year before the prequel was due to air. It gave us a lot of time of paying a subscription for a pretty poor lineup of old movies.
Those pesky Netflix guys have thought of that, though. While there are still free trials on offer to sign up, the minute you suggest leaving, as a couple of pals have, you are warned that the rate you're on now will not apply in the future. So you could leave, but coming back for more Frank Underwood (the initials F and U were picked intentional for the character in the original UK series, apparently) will cost you more in the long run.
So are they trying an experiment here to look at patterns of what engenders more loyalty? Two big shows about to air. Arguably the biggest is being made available from launch while the second remains linear? Is the point to make it impossible to subscribe for a month and then ditch the service? Will they be looking at churn after the viewing of each series ends? Will the new "House of Cards" get those thinking of churning reengaged and then "Better Call Saul" will be there to prevent a February or March exodus.
Possibly all of the above. One thing's for sure. Netflix looks pretty silly when it talks about smashing linear television with a new highly anticipated shows that airs every week on a Tuesday.