Yesterday's announcement that Netflix (NFLX -1.03%) has renewed House of Cards for a third season wasn't always as automatic as some may have assumed. In fact, some had begun to wonder if the show's top tier cast and crew may decide to call it a wrap after two seasons. Luckily, that's not the case ... for now. As a result, not only will fans be guaranteed an extra season of well-crafted political intrigue (without those pesky real-world consequences), but Netflix has just given itself some breathing room as it continues rounding out its arsenal.
The main impact this has on Netflix is stability, and that's an enormous benefit for the business. House of Cards was revolutionary when it debuted last year. It was the first streaming drama to be taken seriously and a large part of that had to do with its cast (headlined by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) and crew (including Oscar-nominated director David Fincher). The presence of that collection of talent forced audiences to pay attention and have a legitimate conservation about the changing TV landscape.
The only way to sustain that conversation though is for Netflix to keep its foot on the pedal. Had Cards come off the table it would have hurt. Imagine HBO losing The Sopranos two years in or Dexter closing up shop on Showtime after a pair of seasons -- this is that same level of importance.
To borrow from one of the network's other top shows "A-list talent doing short-form TV is the new black." It's easier, it's profitable and it's not going anywhere. From Kevin Bacon on The Following to the entire ensemble of FX's American Horror Story, it is a growing trend and one that while successful still carries risk. While the appeal of a shorter shooting schedule will get you top actors in the short run, the lure of returning to the stage or big screen is always waiting in the wings … and growing with the success of the show and the critical acclaim of the actor. For anthology series where you have a new cast ever year, it's a non-issue, but not for Cards.
The 'Netflix Way'
Securing Spacey and the ensemble for another 13 episodes not only gives Netflix an added year of top exposure, it allows people to watch season two without reservations. Cards is shown the "Netflix way" -- instead of using a 13-week piecemeal release method, all 13 are uploaded at the same time, meaning production on the full season has to have already wrapped before a single episode is viewed by a subscriber.
As a result, if the show wasn't coming back, there was a chance it could have ended on a cliffhanger. That would've removed a lot of the good will audiences gave the series. Netflix had to have known a third season was likely or else it would have needed to have taken steps to ensure a proper resolution. A young network can't afford to alienate audiences from its marquee show and a sudden ending to your debut series would have been bad.
In addition, the pickup helps shore up Netflix's roster for the next two years. It ensures it has an anchor program as a way to help bolster Orange Is the New Black while it continues to gain popularity and help set up the next big drama (which is likely the project Netflix just signed Kyle Chandler to the other week).
In short, this was a big win for Netflix and while it may have always been in the cards, you can see why investors and audiences are glad to know it's now a sure thing.