Image source: Netflix.   

We are now less than a week away from the fourth season of House of Cards on Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). It won't be the last we see of Francis Underwood and his conniving cronies. Netflix approved a fifth season last month, though when the show returns for that season come early 2017 it will be without creator and showrunner Beau Willimon.
It's not just fans of the show that should be excited. Investors should also be feeling pretty good about this. House of Cards is the show that put Netflix on the map in terms of original programming. It wasn't the first exclusive series on the now globally dominant streaming platform. Lilyhammer gets the distinction of being Netflix's first foray into original programming a full year before. However, everything seemed to change after House of Cards took off in 2013, garnering mainstream industry awards and critical praise along the way.

Netflix had just 33.3 million subscribers worldwide when the show premiered three years ago. Today Netflix's subscriber base stands north of 75 million accounts worldwide. It's not the only thing that has expanded dramatically. Netflix shares closed at a split-adjusted price of $23.54 the day that the show premiered. The stock has gone on to more quadruple.

Netflix knew that it was on to something big. The shareholder letter (link opens PDF) released a week before the show's debut back in 2013 offered a passage that proved to be beautifully prophetic.

We believe that February 1st will be a defining moment in the development of Internet TV.

On that day, we will release all 13 episodes of "House of Cards" in all of our markets, allowing our members the freedom to immerse themselves when and how they want in the world created by David Fincher and his stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

Imagine if books were always released one chapter per week, and were only briefly available to read at 8pm on Thursday. And then someone flipped a switch, suddenly allowing people to enjoy an entire book, all at their own pace. That is the change we are bringing about. That is the future of television. That is Internet TV. 

Yes, Netflix was drumming up binge viewing before it was acceptable. Now it's the norm. Viewers expect to continue to the next episode of a series on their terms. Binge viewing -- and the lack of traditional cable networks and broadcasters to offer that natively -- could explain why cable and satellite television providers have suffered net defections since House of Cards. The traditional TV industry, it seems, was a house of cards itself. 

Binge viewing has become so instinctive that Hulu's getting knocked around for making its latest serialized offering, Stephen King's 11.22.63, only available in weekly doses. The logic may be sound to space out the releases. It keeps subscribers around longer. It offers up the opportunity for water cooler chatter since everyone watching is at the same point in the series. However, it's not the consumer-friendly strategy that Netflix championed with House of Cards as the platform's poster child. 

With Netflix shares correcting sharply these days -- off by more than 25% since peaking last summer -- a little Francis Underwood could be just the ticket to remind investors what subscribers already know about the stickiness of the service and the compelling value proposition for video buffs. The fact that the fourth season rolls out at a time when the real presidential elections are heating up is just gravy. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.