Will the House of Cards Stand?

Netflix released House of Cards Season Two this past Friday. Like other avante garde TV series from disruptive non-traditional networks, it created quite a stir. But does the show owe its buzz more to Netflix’s strategy of releasing a whole season at once than people actually watching the program?

Let’s be clear, Netflix generates a ton of publicity through its whole season release strategy (hat tip: Andy Sternberg). Even President Barack Obama is excited about the Washington drama.


Given that word-of-mouth driven online buzz fuels as much if not more viewership than actual network promotions today, one could argue that House of Card‘s PR strategy, while buzzworthy may work against it in the long-term. Without a weekly episode, the program can’t maintain buzz through a season or a year.

Also what if competitors decide to follow suit and release whole seasons at once? Beyonce followed a similar surprise strategy with her most recent album. Will other television producers follow suit? Certainly, the strategy looses its sheen when others partake in the same approach.

But I don’t think Netflix has too much to worry about on that front. I’m not sure other networks will be quick to give up their weekly fix of viewer driven buzz. Let’s take a deeper look at some data.

Chatter versus Viewers

House of Cards Comparison

The above Google Trend analysis shows that other relatively well known newcomers from non-traditional networks are far outpacing Netflix’s House of Cards when it comes to search. The blue line is the TV show House of Cards, yellow is PBS’s Downtown Abbey, red is AMC’s The Walking Dead, and green is HBO’s Game of Thrones.

When people want to find out more about the show, it’s clear that the latter three shows are all benefitting from season long buzz with spikes depending on specific episodes (the massive green spike is the infamous Game of Thrones Red Wedding episode). House of Cards‘ social buzz and media hype is not translating to people seeking out the show through conventional search.

Tweet Chatter

The above chart measured the shows’ official hashtags on Sunday via Hashtags.org. the three shows that were active that weekend — House of Cards, Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead.

House of Cards enjoyed steady traffic compared to the spikes enjoyed by its competitors. In total, it doubled Downton Abbey‘s tweets for Sunday p.m., and achieved about 2/3 of The Walking Dead‘s. However, Monday traffic saw a significant drop, in spite of the federal holiday.


House of Cards word-of-mouth buzz is not sustaining. I imagine as the weeks pass and the season release buzz fades, #houseofcards chatter will continue to lessen while its competitors will chug along with their weekly spike.

You can infer how the numbers might work out over a period of months. The other shows benefit from weekly releases in the overall cumulative total, while #HouseofCards will level out until its next season release.

It’s not that House of Cards isn’t a good show that may grow in viewership with more seasons. But its release strategy seems to be more of a gimmick than a sustainable method that can be applied across the entire media market. We have seen PR generate tremendous buzz in the past without producing business results. This might be another example.

Even Netflix may recognize the House of Cards release paradigm is not sustainable. The video on demand service will move to a gradual release strategy with its first kids program, Turbo Fast.

It doesn’t help that only 29 million people subscribe to Netflix with more than 20% of subscribers living abroad. But then again, HBO ony has 28 million.

The difference? HBO lets non-subscribers buy individual episodes as do PBS and AMC. House of Cards requires a Netflix subscription, which limits access to those who might be interested in the show sans the full service commitment.

What do you think about the House of Cards buzz?


  • Interesting stats but I wonder if it’s too early to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Netflix took a leap of faith when it started releasing entire series and it seems to be generating interest beyond viewership; just heard that
    Amazon is going to try to enter the marathon viewing game next. I believe that consumption by desire will ultimately rule the day; sure, we can all set our DVRs and mimic the pattern but there is something to be said for the lack of effort during downtime. Time will tell.

    • Perhaps Amazon will innovate on the Netflix approach. I am pretty sure the combination of the all-at-once approach plus Netflix exclusivity for in network subscribers stifles growth. The thing that feeds House of Cards kills it, too.

  • 1st season rocked the 2nd season was Crap. Confusing and convoluted and just plain old boring. Disappointed that I wasted my time. Still love Netflix however and the binge model! But if Netflix released hoc normally over time the show would die it is that bad (2nd season)

    • Generally, I have heard more positive reviews on 1 than 2, but man, the HoC fans that are out there are LOYAL. LOL! I agree, too many bad seasons = a lot of smelly mud on the wall!

  • Carol Lynn and I got Netflix this past year and we love it. We watch what we want to watch when we want to watch it. We still have cable, but it’s looking likely we will drop it. The only thing that has kept us holding on is HBO. If HBO offered HBOGO as a stand alone product, all Comcast would see would be our dust as we headed out of Dodge. The problem with Cable is that is provides most people with unlimited options for things they don’t want to see in the first place. Netflix has a much narrower inventory, but it’s more selective. Couple Netflix with Hulu Plus and the need for cable practically goes out the window. With Netflix, Hulu Plus and buying Game of Thrones episodes, I’d still be paying a fraction of my present cable bill. And watching more enjoyable content. And if I were a lesser man, I would also point out how some of these ridiculous fees incentivize consumers to use torrents. But that’s a topic for another day.

    • The similarities between HBO and Netflix with their pricing models is stunning. I think that of any of the networks/channels/services they are coming closer together than any. This is Netflix’s gambit to justify the value offering of the extra fee as more networks offer their shows in diverse channels. It makes sense. Perhaps HBO will soon be an app as you say.

  • Obviously a quick cut at stats, but wonder if/how deeper taxonomy (vs just official hashtags) and broader channel view (FB, blogs and forums, etc vs just Twitter and Goog Trends search) would alter.

    Heck, even switching your Google Trends to US only and focusing on last 12 months (more fair given HOC wasn’t launched until Feb. 2013) shows HOC search more normalized vs Downtown Abbey and Walking Dead vs the longer trend line you used. Switch to search of the titles alone vs choosing “Television Series” and HOC *beats* Downtown Abbey vs. “far outpacing”.

    • I suppose anyone can manipulate a search to their preference. That doesn’t account for the lack of Twitter action, though. Plus we’ll see whether any House of Cards Google Trend search is strong in a month.

  • I’d say that it’s a different form of viewing / talking about it. I tweeted/ posted on FB once to say “Happy HOC” day and then again when I finished binge watching with #nospoilers. Most of my friends were watching it that weekend as well. I don’t think you can compare it to a regular program and buzz model.

    • I do appreciate the enthusiasm some folks have shown about HoC. It is clear that there is a loyal fan base, but I don’t think you can avoid measuring overall public chatter and behavior. Last I checked there was no private Netflix social network for the general public to discuss the show. So measuring how the different distribution models impact buzz is actually really important, at least for me, so I can see which is better for long-term consumption.

  • But consider the business model – $8 / month for all you can eat. House of Cards doesn’t need buzz year-round, it just needs to create enough buzz that people are willing to part with their $8 because it’s easier than downloading it. Once they have them, even if it’s a free trial, it takes considerably less to keep them. If they can space out their original programming at a pace that keeps people signing up, they’re in a good place. I don’t think you can compare Netflix performance indicators against networks, even HBO, because they don’t have hours to fill, and they’re not beholden to advertisers for revenue. There’s a good reason they released House of Cards on a holiday weekend during the Olympics and Orange is the New Black during the summer when nothing is on. They’re looking to stimulate subscribers at this point. Between original seasons, they’ll keep viewers with their licensed content, which is why most people signed up in the first place.

    • Hmm, $8 x 12 – $96. One season of Game of Thrones on iTunes – $38.99. One season of The Walking Dead, same. One season of Downton Abbey – $19.99. I could get all three for the same price as House of Cards ;)

      • But you are not buying a single series for $96 a year. You’re buying an entire catalog of shows on demand. Including The Walking Dead, and Downton Abbey.

  • I have had Netflix for a year and my daughter and I are addicted to it. I do want to watch HoC, but haven’t had time alone to get to it. With that said, I did catch up by binging on The Walking Dead and Orange towards the end of 2013. And there are other shows i have yet to see and want to catch up on…starting with Season 1. Wasn’t HoC the first show to be released all at once? Maybe that is one reason they put so much hype around it. Cheers!

    • It was, and I definitely think that’s why it gets tons of buzz. A paradigm breaker. At least Netflix innovated where others haven’t. We’ll see how it plays out!

  • I think Netflix’s approach is innovative and time will tell how it really pans out for them. I actually had the premier date for Season 2 of HoC on my wall calendar and burned through it over the weekend. Awesome! While watching, I got five friends hooked on it as I badgered them about the show through text messages. Meanwhile I’ll go back to my documentary queue while waiting for Season 2 of Orange is the New Black.

  • But Also Netflix Launched Lilly Hammer, before house of Cards, and I really have not seen buzz about that even with Season 2 being launched all at once. So this Strategy works some of the the time.

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