'House of Cards' spawns a new kind of binge and competitive viewing
Social media lights up with talk about Baltimore-made drama
David Fincher directs Kevin Spacey and Kate Mara in 'House of Cards' scene. (Melinda Sue Gordon/Kimaging / February 9, 2013)
“I said I was going to bed hours ago,” one tweet written shortly after midnight began. “But then ‘House of Cards’ got me all caught up.”
A little over an hour later, she wrote again, “After episode 3 goes off, I have to call it a night ... but tomorrow I'm right back on it …”
Later yet: “I made it to episode 5 …”
Byrd, a Baltimore journalist (@CatalinaByrd), is one of many who spent last weekend on the cutting edge of a new way to watch TV — or, more specifically, a new way to watch TV shows that were never on television — in the topsy-turvy world of massive media transformation these days.
“House of Cards,” a $100 million production that premiered Feb. 1 on Netflix, made a Super Bowl weekend even crazier than usual for serious fans of pop culture. Instead of premiering on a cable channel like HBO or AMC and being portioned out one episode a week, the 13-episode first season of the Baltimore-made political drama was made available for instant streaming in one fell swoop.
And subscribers, some of them engaging in a new kind of competitive viewing, found just how much of a good thing they could handle — or not.
“That was the wonderful thing and the problem with it: They give it to you all at once,” said David Hobby, (@strobist) author of the “Strobist” blog. “It was like when they give laboratory rats as much crack as they can handle. And they eat it all.”
Hobby, a former Sun photographer, didn’t exactly eat “House of Cards” all at once.
“But it just crept into every spare minute I had,” he says. “I stayed up until maybe 4 in the morning [Feb. 2] watching. And I’m trying not to be obvious about it, so I’m watching after my wife is asleep.”
How’d that work out?
“Then you get, ‘Well, I thought we were going to watch that together,’” he says replaying his wife’s words. “And I’m like thinking, ‘There’s no way you’re going to be able watch it fast enough for me to wait up for you.’ The compromise is that I’m going to watch it again with her at sane-person intervals.”
His tweets tell the same kind of story as Byrd’s.
Late night Feb. 1: “Quick question: Does seven episodes in a row count as binge-watching? #HouseOfCards.”
Early morning Feb. 2: “Yo @Netflix. Releasing all 13 episodes of #HouseOfCards at once is like having a 2-lb bag of Ruffles in the pantry. Not always a great idea.”
Later on Feb. 2: “12 down, one to go. #HouseOfCards #Bender #NoSleep #ChoresNotDone #EyesTwitchy #TwentyMinuteBreak.”
Binge viewing, of course, is nothing new. Indeed, some of the finest series in the history of TV, like HBO’s “The Wire” and NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” found large audiences that savored their excellence in such marathon viewings after their ratings-challenged first runs on TV ended.
But that process of control by the viewer has been possible only after a series has gone through its first run on weekly TV and then become available on DVD. The viewer only gets control after the media gatekeepers are through doling it out week by week to a mass audience.
“I binge-view TV programs after the fact,” Hobby says. “In fact, I usually wait to find out if something’s really good and then catch up on it all at once. But this is different. This is something where you knew it was coming, you knew it was going to be good, and you knew it was all going to be there at once.”