House of Cards and the Paradoxical Role of Netflix

Research output: Research - peer-reviewPaper

Since the late 1990s when HBO ventured into original programming and launched its triad of Oz (1997-2003), Sex and the City (1998-2004) and The Sopranos (1999-2007) the competition within American TV series has been played out amongst three types of networks and corresponding economic models: series commissioned by advertiser-based broadcast networks, series commissioned by subscription-based premium cable networks and series commissioned by basic cable networks that rely on a combination of subscription and advertiser funding. Each of these platforms informs the audiovisual strategy of the respective series – most clearly as regards representational scope (e.g. language use, sex and violence) but also as regards stylistics, narrative orchestration, thematic concerns and genre choices (see Nielsen et al, 2011).

February 1st 2013 saw the launch of the first fully Netflix-funded series, House of Cards (2013), available exclusively on the company’s streaming service. The situation is interesting for a number of reasons. First, Netflix seems to enter into competition with the very conglomerates (particularly their premium and basic cable subsidiaries) whom they rely on for acquiring rights for streaming content. Second, all episodes of House of Cards were launched at once - a distribution method that may work well for some series but appears to undercut the week-to-week build-up of suspense and guesswork that crime series such as The Killing (AMC 2011-) rely on. Third, it raises questions about the very essence of the object of study. Can we even talk of House of Cards as a TV-series? This paper will discuss the implications of Netflix’ venture into commissioned serial fiction, describing the company’s paradoxical role in the market, the distribution strategy of House of Cards as well as estimating the stylistic, thematic, narrative and genre strategies of the show in relation to the norms and traditions of contemporary American TV series.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year25 Oct 2013
StatePublished - 25 Oct 2013

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