Dear Netflix: you blew it
I, maybe like you, was pretty excited to hear that Netflix would be releasing the entire first season of House of Cards all at once. For a person that has no problem blowing through television seasons on any given weekend (gotta have something on all those monitors), this seemed like the best-case scenario: no more waiting. No more trying to figure out the best way to watch something on the right screen. No more being days behind everyone because I refuse to give money to The Cable Machine. One more opportunity to join the pitchforkers and say fuck you, cable — I never needed you, anyway!
Boy, was I wrong.
I tweet a lot. I didn't, but then I did. I can't explain it, but I think it had something to do with joining The Verge and finally having a group of people I knew on the network to make it interesting. These days, though, I think I get Twitter. Or, at least, I get a version of it that I enjoy.
Tweeting excites me. I love it. Every 140-character message is a gift from the Twitter gods, handed down from Mount Biz Stone, delivered on a golden whisper. Tweets can be little poems, or stories, or part of something bigger: I love the constraints. And I love how new it feels.
For better or worse, my Twitter obsession has, I think, made me hyper-focused on what's happening right now. Biden just made a crazy face at the inauguration? Better tweet about it. Walter White just did something insane again? That's a tweet. The White House's Flickr just added a huge photo of Obama shooting skeet? I mean, come on.
Zero Dark Birdie twitter.com/LaughingStoic/…— T.C. Sottek (@LaughingStoic) February 3, 2013
House of Cards is on? Better tweet about it.
Netflix Time vs. Twitter Time
Several scenes in House of Cards were filmed a few blocks from where I live in Baltimore, Maryland. Since reporter Zoey Barnes lives across the street from where I get coffee on a daily basis, I figured I'd grab a couple photos and tweet them.
Frank Underwood's SUV is often parked here at night. Watching, but never waiting. twitter.com/LaughingStoic/…— T.C. Sottek (@LaughingStoic) February 2, 2013
As I stood at the street corner, summoning 140 characters of clever copy, I realized I had a big problem: I didn't know who I was talking to. How much could I say? What should I say? Who would even get it? (Light spoiler: in a scene on this block, Rep. Frank Underwood tells Barnes that he never waits for anyone.) If you haven't seen far enough in the show, you wouldn't get it, but at least you could appreciate the setting. Unless you haven't seen Frank's SUV parked on this corner, either (wait, which episode was that?).
Netflix made a bold move releasing the full season of House of Cards at midnight, but I think it's actually a bad one. I like watching shows all at once — when they're not brand new. Releasing 13 episodes at midnight is like a "rush to the fish" — someone out there is going to watch the whole thing at once and ruin it for everyone. It's like Netflix painstakingly made a complex 13-course meal, meant to be enjoyed with friends and spirits over a long, lazy afternoon, but put each course in a chafing dish at Chipotle and served it in one giant burrito of sadness.
The problem is that Netflix time does not align with Twitter time. Want to watch The West Wing? Cool, you can. Don't worry that it's from a decade ago, and that everyone's already seen it, and that the people who re-watching it are on their own little timelines. Maybe with your circle of friends, you'll get lucky.
Yay, look at us! We're all watching the same thing! And that's where it ends.
Netflix needs to make time zones. It turns out getting all the episodes at once is actually kind of pointless — there's simply no way to talk about them with the world. Nobody wants to deal with spoilers, and the release-it-all-at-once-model doesn't give us a chance to establish a statute of limitations on social ostracization for jerks who ruin it for us. (World War 1, after all, is said to have begun after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand spoiled the ending of Making a Living for all of Serbia. But if Netflix had streamed it for everyone at the same time, could we have blamed him?)
House of Cards was a nice stunt, but it's time to move on — and there are lots of options. How about two episodes a week? (House of Cards seems to work nicely when watching episodes in pairs.) That'd only be a six-week run. People can deal with it.
More importantly, people can talk about it. Maybe ironically, if just episodes 1 & 2 had been released Thursday night, I'd have a lot more to say. I wouldn't feel as bad for spoiling a pilot three days later. Right now, I'm just in the dark.
When can we talk about the murder?