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.

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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.

HouseDrop

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?

2012 Trend Spotting: Social TV

(Image by Read/Write/Web, based on research from Yahoo!)

The rise of social TV creates dynamic implications across media type. Viewers are commenting about or engaging with other viewers of TV programs real time via their smartphones, tablets and laptops. This unprecedented integration of diverse broadcast and social media types changes programming, advertising and equipmemt.

In essence, social media and instant messaging forms a massive TV back channel, empowering people to talk about a program as it airs. Programmers see this as an opportunity to engage the audience on the back channel with value added content and live interaction. As a result, engagement has increased.

Last Spring HBO had Howard Stern on Twitter while airing his movie, Private Parts. The effort caused a huge viewing spike for HBO. Talk and reality programs like The Voice and Conan O’Brien are integrating social commentary and feedback into their programming.

Twitter has embraced its role as a social TV back channel. It has created an agreement with the X Factor to create voting features to drive the program’s outcome. Further, Twitter is actively seeking to additional TV programming relationships.

Apps, Ads and Gear

Applications like GetGlue are letting viewers check into shows, and comment as they run. Updates can be broadcasted onto Twitter and Facebook, extending a program’s viewership. On the content creator side, Trendrr is helping programmers and advertisers better understand how stakeholders are using these diverse media.

At the basis of the social TV shift is a transition from passive audiences to engaged, interacting stakeholders, but in addition they are engaged in other non-related content. In essence, when the ads are on, the viewer is gone.

This means that advertisers will be further challenged to evolve their content beyond the 30 second spot. They, too, may be forced to create value added interactive content, similar to some of the Super Bowl ads developed over recent years. This will increase the quantity of high quality branded content developed for social channels.

In the 1997, speculators debated wether a PCTV was possible at the Consumer Electronics Show. Fourteen years, later that vision is coming true. Equipment manufacturers are racing to integrate social elements into their TV equipment, and TV into their computing devices (small and large). Perhaps the most anticipated development here is the possible unveiling of Apple iTV.

Implications

Clearly, more programmers will engage in social TV programming in 2012. Viewership is going down, generally, and social increases real-time engagement. But there is a saturation point that has not been achieved yet. Sooner or later, adding social interaction into a program will no longer be novel, and can’t guarantee a spike.

At the same time, programming that doesn’t offer some sort of back channel value add will risk those who have been accustomed to second screen engagement. According to Yahoo! 86% of smartphone users engage on their phones while watching TV, and recent statistics show smartphone use in the U.S. has surpassed 40%. This is a strong minority of TV viewers.

It also means the continued commercialization of the social web will increase. As media companies seek to harness and own the conversations about their shows, casual peer-to-peer engagement will become less natural. And this may cause conversations about non branded content to become more private as conversationalists seek less noise.

What do you think of social TV? How will it change media?