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House Of Cards, one week later: Spoiler alerts and the DVD question

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Last Friday, when I binge-viewed my way through the first season of House of Cards, I didn’t have a lot of time to consider what kind of effects the show might end up having on the state of television today; I was, after all, very busy trying to figure out exactly what Kevin Spacey’s duplicitous Congressman Underwood was plotting.

But a week later, the David Fincher-produced political drama has raised a number of questions about the current state of television — and what impact the Netflix (s NFLX) model of distribution might have upon it.

Spoiler Alert!

Spoiler etiquette — otherwise known as “When is it okay to openly tweet about what just happened on ?” — is a touchy subject for television fans who worry about being ruined for a show’s best twists. A few months ago, Sam Biddle at Gizmodo proposed the following rules, which work well for serialized fare:

  1. A seven day grace period for new episodes.
  2. Putting major spoilers on Twitter is a no-no.
  3. If it’s off the air, it’s fair game.
  4. Even outside of the grace period, a heads up about spoilers in mixed company is polite.

But how does the grace period work when everyone’s watching at their own pace? If, a month from now, I tell someone why the ending of House of Cards‘s “Chapter 7” is [SPOILER ALERT] very creepy, would they have the right to be upset?

Informally, many I’ve talked to are about halfway through the first season — and even if a friend says to me that they just finished Chapter 5, one of the consequences of binge-viewing is that episodes have a habit of blending together: Only the most attentive of viewers are able to remember exactly which episodes contain which plot developments (though the creepy sex scenes do stand out).

There’s no good answer for this yet, which means for the duration we’re probably going to see a lot of articles like Aymar Jean Christian’s at Televisual, which goes into detail about a character revelation from “Chapter 8,” but only after being heavily couched with spoiler warnings.  It’s not terribly efficient, but ultimately the prudent approach — unless you want to be Miss Know-It-All from Netflix’s own ads.

Binge-Viewing: Bad for television?

The Onion AV Club, that sprawling nexus of television commentary, is approaching House of Cards with a two-pronged approach: Reviewing episodes on a week-by-week basis, while allowing commenters who have already binged a spoiler-soaked forum for discussion.

But the AV Club also ran a piece this week entitled “Could Netflix’s programming strategy kill the golden age of TV?”, in which TV editor Todd VanDerWerff observed that he may have liked House of Cards less if he was watching it on a weekly schedule:

Binge-viewing has advantages over watching episodes one at a time… Individual episodes’ flaws become magnified when viewers have a week between episodes to stew over them, but in the middle of a binge, those flaws are diminished, simply because it’s always time to move onto the next thing…  I wouldn’t give any of the seven House Of Cards episodes I’ve watched higher than a B+, but I also wouldn’t go lower than B-. The show neatly splits the difference between being just good enough and never trying anything risky enough to turn off large portions of its audience.

A counterpoint by critic Jaime Weinman suggests that the new world order pushes us to evaluate shows as complete seasons, rather than on an episode by episode basis, which may ultimately create a stronger viewing experience:

After watching something for 13 hours, it’s difficult to know what the good parts or the bad parts are, or even to follow anything beyond the basic plot; everything blurs together. Yet that in itself is a possible argument for binge-viewing. Watching an episode a week tends to inflate the importance of every episode, sometimes beyond what a single TV episode can sustain. This, I think, is part of the reason that we’re more likely to be disappointed by new episodes of a series when they appear once a week, and why seasons often look better when they go to DVD or to daily syndication. The shorter the wait between episodes, the less of a life-or-death proposition every episode becomes.

But what definitely suffers is be the discussion of television online (which is probably one of the Top 10 internet recreations, right after pornography, fantasy football and cat videos). After all, it’s tough to talk about a show when everyone’s on a different episode — controlling their individual viewing, but at the expense of the communal experience.

House of Cards: Available on DVD and Blu-ray?

Speaking of internet commments — the question I’ve been seeing a lot of places is will the first season of House of Cards be released in disc form anytime in the future?

While yes, the market for physical media may be dying, it’s not dead yet: In 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times, DVD/Blu-ray sales actually increased (by a fraction) to $18 billion. People without Netflix subscriptions, whose binge-viewing is enabled by box sets, still exist — even Netflix still makes 50.1 percent of its profits off the DVD rental side of its business.

According to a Netflix spokesperson, Netflix currently has the first window of exclusivity for the series, but when that window is complete, Media Rights Capital (the production company behind the series) will also be able to pursue a home video release for the show. So, the odds are good that you’ll be able to give your thriller-loving grandparents Season 1 on Blu-ray as early as this summer.

This is just the beginning of Netflix’s 2013 of original content, and at the very least House of Cards is an exciting way to kick it off. Because love it or hate it, one thing is definitely true: It’s got people talking.

22 Responses to “House Of Cards, one week later: Spoiler alerts and the DVD question”

  1. Bobbi Otto

    We’re taking a long plane ride (10 hrs) the end of May. I’ve pre-ordered House of Cards on Amazon hoping to take with us and watch while we’re in flight … but it’s still not available. Will we get it in time? Can’t video-stream on the plane …. Please … does anyone have anyone have any info?

  2. We are unable to stream because of our geographical location. So we subscribe to Netflix and have Direct TV. I am sure we are not alone in our inability to receive shows in this manner so we are always delighted to hear when something good is going to be released in a form we can enjoy.

  3. ChickenLittle

    One thing that was not addressed in this article is related to the piracy aspect of movies. Does releasing this on Netflix, with it’s seemingly “reasonable” monthly fee make piracy less of a threat, or is it more so since it’s not as widely distributed as it may be on DVD/Blu-ray Disc?

  4. Eric Bolduc

    Good job pointing one thing out, you’ve all seen the original content of netflix. Why keep it beyond the free trial now….$100mill to produce a show that, while interesting TV, won’t hold customers for years on end. $100mill for what people gobbled in a weekend. They just got $500mill in refinancing, most went to pay old debts, that won’t leave much for more seasons of original content. At the current rate of income per quarter, they can’t even afford to produce another season per year. Can’t wait for this stock boulder to start roling down the hill.

  5. WorkingGirl

    The endless interruptions by commercials and promos on network television makes viewing excruciating for consumers. I can barely suffer through evening news. This consumer dissatisfaction has to drive folks to other options like Netflix, etc.

  6. We already watched the entire 13 episodes. Hopefully, the story is not done and w will be seeing more of the “House of Cards”. My husband and I loved it! Great acting and great story. You cannot leave us hanging without an ending. So much more to come I hope.

  7. I’m not clear after viewing episode 13. If the series does not continue (which possibility is also unclear), we are left with the uplifting certainty that power and corruption will always win. Nevertheless, the lawsuit against Claire and the reporters’ investigation into Russo’s death are left hanging. I feel left hanging as well.

    Apart from those little problems, the acting etc. was indeed superb.


    • Peter Mally

      They filmed 2 full seasons in a row, not only to keep the suspense but also to keep continuity and flow between the seasons. Which honestly I really like as most shows start falling apart during the second season because some network mucky-mucky thinks the show needs “Something else” to keep viewers interested.

  8. Gary Dauphin

    Game changer! House of Cards is so far terrific (half way thru it now!). More importantly, it brings an new content provider into the channel, and anyone with industry vision can see that content is King, not the cable it is carried on. Kudos to Netflix for great drama, and not just the series. They are going to open up a wonderful new door to entertainment free from the monopoly of (insert your overpriced TV supplier here).

    • I’m new to Netflix…like house of cards new…wicked!!!…$ 7.99/mth…are you kidding me…I buy 3 burnt DVDs for $ 10 and most time they suck from the Chinese girl at the corner store….I would pay $ 20 easily for Netflix…I can’t keep the kids off it

  9. I found the House of Cards to be the most seriously interesting TV series I’ve ever viewed. I took 3 days to view all 13 episodes last weekend but honestly I found it hard to watch anything else except for the Super Bowl. The story and acting are first rate. The pace is excellent. There’s so much going on in each episode. The ruthlessness of Spacey’s Underwood and his wife is downright scary. Spacey’s periodic revealing thoughts to the viewer adds much humor to the whole thing. Thanks for the sexual escapades. Fantastic work, Fincher!

  10. “Creepy sex scenes”, what is wrong with that? Without them it would be just make believe, show the sex scenes and nudity and it is more like what actually go on.
    Have you heard of President Clinton? Or maybe President J.F.K? And the presidents are not the only ones, how about that security team that refused to pay recently and it came to ligtht. Thats llife, like it or not, which you are free not to watch if you dont like it.