Analyzing the Analysts
Though Netflix isn't releasing any figures, they are saying that House of Cards is their most-watched title. “I don’t want to give ratings, because it is a real apples-to-oranges comparison with network ratings,” the Chief Content Officer of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, said a recent conference. “We’re thrilled.”
In analyzing the results, Betsy Isaacson of the Huffington Post wrote,
As in network television, much of Netflix's success ultimately depends on the quality of the content and the actors -- and Netflix won't always be able to remake a well-liked U.K. show, or, for that matter, have access to Kevin Spacey.
While the reporter is right, of course, that Netflix's future success depends on the quality of the content and the actors. Though that's true for pretty much...well, everyone.
In fact, none of this analysis is especially thoughtful. The rest of it is even fairly unsupportable or meaningless.
First, given that Netflix is only planning to make a handful of productions a year, there's probably a huge store of "well-liked" British shows they can pull from, given that BBC content goes back many decades. And they can have access to "well-liked" titles from France, Italy, Denmark, Japan...all over the world. The treasure chest is huge. Besides which, since they plan to be small and focused -- not unlike HBO -- they probably have little intention of just doing adaptations from other countries only, but instead develop high-quality originals. Like HBO does. And which they've already done themselves, with Lilyhammer and the upcoming prison drama, Orange is the New Black. So, suggesting that they can't depend on great British shows is damning with pointless analysis.
And second, as for not having "access to Kevin Spacey" -- that's something that seems like it's supposed to be profound but is not only meaningless, but wrong.
I think Kevin Spacey is a wonderful actor. And I tend to love his performances. But Kevin Spacy is not a Big American Movie Star. Kevin Spacey hasn't starred in a hit movie since K-PAX, 12 years ago in 2001. And that wasn't all that big a hit. So, I suspect that if Netflix wants to keep making high-visibility projects with Kevin Spacey, they'll likely have access to him for a very long time. And if not Kevin Spacey, there is a abundant world of high-quality actors of his caliber who are known, but aren't Big Stars either, who would crawl over long distances to star in Netflix productions. Before HBO made The Sopranos, James Gandolfini was not only not a Big Name Star -- he wasn't half was known as Kevin Spacey. And honestly, he's still not a Big Name Movie Star. Further, if Netflix wants to pay their price, they could probably have access to Big American Movie Stars, far bigger than Kevin Spacey.
Ms. Isaacson is correct. Content and quality matters, most particularly in a venture like this -- just like it matters for companies. But the issue isn't whether Netflix has access to Kevin Spacey and great British shows to adapt. The actors are there. And the content is there, as well, and in many forms -- It's the HBO model. And Showtime, as well. They've shown for years that it can be done -- the trick is deciding on the right one, and doing it well. The issue is whether audiences are willing to watch programs this way. This form of distribution.
At the moment, according to Netflix, they are.
But that's the issue.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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