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Tom Tangney

Slick political drama 'House of Cards' garners a different kind of attention

I spent the first weekend without football in six months watching all 13 episodes of a brand new series called "House of Cards." It's a series making history for all sorts of reasons.

"House of Cards" is a slick political drama starring two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and produced by A-list director David Fincher.

Spacey plays a South Carolina Democrat who's a cut-throat Majority Whip in the House of Representatives. He has designs on higher office and uses journalists and compromised politicians as stepping stones.

But as good as "House of Cards" is, it's not the story or production values garnering all the buzz. It's the method of delivery - and who is doing the delivery - that makes "House of Cards" significant.

"House of Cards" is the first TV series not available on TV. You can only stream it through Netflix. The video-on-demand and online streaming service is now in the original programming business, shelling out $100 million for two 13 episode seasons of the insider political drama. "House of Cards" will be competing with all those cable shows like "Mad Men" and "Dexter" and say, "Girls," as well as those countless shows the networks offer.

There's one big difference though. Netflix has made the entire series available all at once. That's right - rather than waiting for 13 weeks to see the show unfold, you can see it all in one fell 13-hour swoop, if you want to. Binge viewing, as it's called. That's exactly how I spent most of this past weekend.

How many others have done the same thing since it was first made available Feb. 1 is unclear. Why? Netflix is not releasing those figures. An Internet traffic monitoring firm (Procera Networks) guesstimates that between 1.5 million and 2.7 million watched at least one episode the day after its initial release. It's estimated half a million actually watched the 13th and final episode on that same day.

The fact that Netflix is refusing to let us know how many of us have watched the series is rich with irony - considering how much it knows about all its users. Netflix knows not only every show we've ever watched, but also when we watched it, and if and when we paused, rewound, or fast-forwarded through a show or turned it off in mid-scene.

In fact, Netflix flaunts its "big data" approach to super-serve its customers.

It already regularly SUGGESTS other programs that seem to fit our personal tastes, it can now CREATE programming that suits its subscribers. For instance, Netflix long before they signed any contracts, knew their users were drawn to political dramas, liked actor Kevin Spacey and enjoyed the work of director David Fincher. So "House of Cards" made perfect business sense.

One of the many questions for the future is whether "perfect business sense" will support or undermine artistic sense. So far, so good. But it's early.

Tom Tangney, KIRO Radio Host, Film & Media Critic
Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.
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By day, you can hear Tom on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, and by night, he sits in the dark, making snide comments about what he sees on the silver screen.

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