Last year Netflix (NFLX -2.25%) made history with the launch of its original streaming series House of Cards. The drama immediately became a smash hit and would go on to help change the national conversation about how we watch TV. Now the second season of the show is available for streaming, which begs the question, how did it become a massive success and more importantly...can it do it again?
The name game
In Washington and in Hollywood it's all about who you know. Netflix knew with names like Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and Oscar nominee David Fincher attached to its political drama, it would make a big statement. Creator Beau Willimon then gathered an impressive supporting cast, each member of which Willimon has said was his first choice for the role.
Willimon's vision was a hit with the public and became a true "star-maker." In addition to reinvigorating the career of leading lady Robin Wright, it helped launch the careers of Kate Mara and Corey Stoll into entirely new directions. It didn't matter that this was a streaming series, it mattered that it was a quality one.
But it was the accomplished and charismatic Spacey that made the series. His presence commands the screen and he helps to elevate the performances of those around him. Season two of the series is expected to be even meatier for the actor and his on-screen wife, as the two now find themselves even higher up the political food chain.
The show has found its way up to those same high levels, breaking the glass ceiling that premium channels fought to shatter back in the '90s. Just as HBO and Showtime had a hard time getting into the big picture, Netflix knew it had an uphill climb, but it was ready. It took a series like Cards to put the industry on notice this was the future and they needed to embrace it or they'd find themselves a victim of it.
Cards earned nine Emmy nominations for its first season, including Best Drama, and won three awards with director Fincher among the recipients. The series' inclusion not only took the spotlight away from established shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones, but stepped over other series that had been fighting to get Emmy voters to recognize their efforts for years.
Emmy voters are a unique bunch who are content to stick to the status quo, which frustrates audiences, critics, and analysts to no end. However the series flexed enough muscle and made itself a part of the conversation in such a strong way, voters were forced to pay attention. In this case, a nomination was truly a big win. Once a show breaks through Emmy's walls the first time, it is likely going to stay in contention for some time to come.
For Netflix, the impact on business was massive. It positioned the channel as an original content destination capable of drawing top talent and earning big accolades. As a result the network's summer offering Orange is the New Black was positioned to be a big hit before it even launched. Expect to hear a lot more about that show as well when the next round of award show nominations roll around.
Yet now Netflix is venturing into somewhat unfamiliar waters ... the sequel (so to speak). Can Cards repeat? Likely, yes it will, but what's so interesting is that as trailblazers Netflix has not only helped change our country's viewing habits, but also managed to change the way we measure success.
The network refuses to release its streaming numbers for its shows, which drives the other networks nuts because it automatically puts them at a disadvantage. Ten people could have streamed Cards and you'd never know it. To be clear, a LOT more than 10 people streamed Cards, but you get the logic. It's all about perception. Without the ratings, its success is left completely up to the public's reaction. Nearly every major entertainment outlet praised Cards and the ensuing reaction cemented the show's status as a megahit.
With season two now available and season three on the way for 2015, Netflix is in the driver's seat among the major streaming services. Cards is its marquee show and until something else is able to top it, Netflix will remain the network to beat in this new digital programming race.