Why Netflix’s House of Cards Deal Is All About Audience Aggregation

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This week Netflix surprised many by licensing House of Cards, an original TV series set to be directed by The Social Network‘s David Fincher.

Why were people surprised? Well, mainly because original content acquisition is a not something Netflix has done before, at least not at this scale. But anyone looking at the company’s strategies of the past as guideposts to future behavior should realize Netflix has only one true strategy: stay ahead of the competition at all costs. In fact, it’s exactly because the company seemed to take many by surprise that tells me its probably on the right path, mainly because it means once again, Netflix is leading the market.

But there are also some sound business reasons Netflix should get into original content, the main one being the rising cost of content licensing. In the early days of online licensing, Netflix was able to strike a number of cheap deals, with the most famous one being the Starz pact. But as Jeffrey Bewkes famously indicated in December, deals like that aren’t going to come around anymore.

In fact, being a straightforward content aggregator in an era when licensing costs are rising faster than a barrel of sweet crude will put any company in a precarious position, even the market leader. Netflix realizes this, and that’s why original content makes so much sense, since it provides another way in which to gain subscribers beyond simple acquiring online distribution rights to content widely available through other channels.

Does this mean Netflix is opting out of the content aggregation business? No, because bundles still matter, and big content libraries are the main selling proposition in the world of online video today. But by opting to provide original content — this one being a political thriller based on a BBC series, from a white-hot director — Netflix now is moving more firmly into audience aggregation.

So what type of new audience exactly are they aggregating? With House of Cards, Netflix may appeal to those who love original dramatic content, which as HBO and Showtime can tell, is a pretty significant (and demographically attractive) audience. And after all, if some see Netflix as a “dog’s breakfast,” it doesn’t hurt to add a little caviar to bring some new fans to the table.

But is expensive HBO style, high-production value dramatic series the only way to do original content? No, and as I discuss in my analysis at GigaOM Pro, Netflix will likely do many more deals,at different price points, with content types that are vastly different than House of Cards.

If House of Cards brings Netflix original drama fans, it might also look to strike deals that would bring reality TV fans, or those who love web series, or how about those who love DVD extras — because we know there are bundles of “extra”  or non-published archived content sitting gathering dust that many content owners wouldn’t mind monetizing.

However Netflix does it, they need to do it, because the war of the library-size is now over. It’s now about acquiring audience.

Source: flickr user quinn.anya

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