Netflix Is Walter White

Once again, Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) saves the television industry. Breaking Bad kicked off its final season with an insane spike in ratings. A whopping 5.9 million viewers tuned in to see Walter White's downward spiral as a rising meth-making kingpin.

It's a big number for AMC (NASDAQ: AMCX  ) . The Emmy-slurping serialized drama has become a big draw for the network, and Sunday night's debut of the show's final eight episodes was more than double the 2.9 million watchers that tuned in to catch last summer's season premiere.

It's a big jump, and it's hard to imagine it would have happened if AMC didn't have a licensing deal with Netflix. We saw this happen on a smaller scale last year, when the fifth season of AMC's Mad Men opened with a 20% boost in viewership. Both Netflix and AMC attributed the pop to the availability of the first four seasons of the show as streams on the leading video service.

When it comes to serialized dramas, nothing seems to help as much as being available to Netflix's growing user base. There are nearly 30 million Netflix streaming accounts in this country, with another nearly 8 million Web-savvy subscribers overseas. Unlike Netflix's 7.5 million disc-based accounts that are renting mostly movies, streaming accounts flock to entire seasons of television shows.

How do you think Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA  ) feels after hearing about AMC's blowout ratings? Viacom parted ways with Netflix earlier this year, presumably because it wanted more money. However, if we dig into the success that AMC has had with Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and now Breaking Bad, it's safe to say that striking a licensing deal with Netflix isn't just about the money.

Netflix provides exposure, and that's something that current shows can milk through great ad rates.

Sitcoms and reality shows don't appear to have the same dynamic as serialized dramas, but there can't be any doubt that AMC's relationship with Netflix is about more than just the licensing fees that it's collecting on Netflix's streams.

We may never get to the point where Tom Sawyer is getting others to paint the fence -- Netflix will continue to shell out big money for big content -- but it's clear that Netflix is calling the shots like a certain meth dealer is on AMC.

Netflix is Walter White -- ideally without the downward spiral.

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