Netflix viewers feast on 'House of Cards'

To deliver the profits, Netflix is counting on Internet scale, reaching masses of people around the world, and keeping production costs stable.

Dan Farber
2 min read
Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos Asa Mathat

Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos is thrilled with the viewing numbers for "House of Cards," but he isn't saying what those numbers are. He allowed that the show is Netflix's leading content in terms of the number of people watching and the hours of engagement. But Netflix doesn't want to get into the maze of TV ratings, given the differences with how broadcast TV is delivered and that "House of Cards" is ad free. "It's apples and oranges," Sarandos said.

In conversation with Peter Kafka and Walt Mossberg at the AllThingsD Dive Into Media conference here, Sarandos responded to questions about the virtues of binge viewing, feasting on all 13 episodes in a lost weekend.

"Nearly everyone who watched, saw multiple episodes," Sarandos said. "This show is built to be watched in multiple episode settings. For every show from HBO to FX, viewers may not have seen the previous episode so they try to fill in blanks. We don't need to spend time on exposition." Indeed, "House of Cards" episodes don't begin with a "last week on the show" minute.

But Netflix stands to lose some of the weekly suspense and water cooler chatter as people discuss the episodes one-by-one. Sarandos contends that Netflix is evolving television. "We are crafting long-form story telling for any way you want to watch. We won't get the weekly buzz thing, but neither do albums...or books. People figure out how to talk about it," he said. "It's a different style of water cooler. If you are on episode eight and I am on four, I know not to talk about five. I didn't want to take one show and take choice away from users. There are no extra points for binge watching. For me, it's about expansion of choice."

Netflix won't say if it is making money on the show, which will cost $100 million for 26 episodes. Sarandos said that relative to how else Netflix could have spent the money, the company is getting increased engagement and viewership and a halo effect that boosts the company brand.

To deliver the profits, Sarandos is counting on Internet scale, reaching masses of people around the world, and keeping production costs stable. "We can control the content cost that ultimately controls pricing. We try to make it more and more accessible to more and more people," he said.

Next up for Netflix binge viewing is 14 episodes of "Arrested Development," debuting in May.