The show has quickly gained a big social media presence, which is how I was first introduced to it. I saw a friend post about it on Facebook, and then saw a Reddit thread a few days later. I went from never having heard of it to thinking it was all around me and that I must watch it.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that the show has only been out since February 1st (5 weeks ago)! From the buzz on the Internet, I had assumed it was out for a few months already, since usually that's how long it takes to build up that kind of momentum. So how did they do it so quickly?
To answer that question, I did some "online research" (yes, that includes watching the show, but I also did some real research too). I discovered that this show's success is anything but luck. Netflix mined data from their own website metrics to create a formula for a successful show that would be geared towards their subscribers. With a combination of actors and director, and the moderate success of the originl British version of the show, House of Cards seemed to fit the formula, and so Netflix set their sights on it.
|The appealing criteria that motivated Netflix to outbid the other networks for House of Cards.|
Image from the New York Times
They also made an unprecedented choice to release the entire first season all at once - all 13 episodes. By giving people the ability to "binge view" the entire season (don't pretend you don't know what that is), they condensed 3 months of content down to a possible 13 hours. This created what Techcrunch and Outbrain call a hyper-engaged audience, and led to stronger advocates speaking on behalf of the show and ultimately an explosion of social media engagement. A pretty great viral marketing strategy, in my opinion.
While Netflix had enough information to make an informed decision, it was still a risky move. They signed a 2-season contract for $100 million, and then released half of their content all at once, all without knowing how any of it would be received. The jury is still out on how successful the show actually is, since Netflix doesn't have to release its numbers to the public. But they have mentioned that it's the #1 watched show on Netflix, and their stock shows a promising spike in the last 2 months, presumably as a result:
|Netflix NASDAQ (NFLX) stock chart shows gains over last 6 months.|
Image from Google Finance
All in all, Netflix saw favorable odds and bet their hand on House of Cards. And I'd say they won, not just by creating a successful show, but by rebelling against industry standards and introducing a fresh, new way to view content. In doing this, I wouldn't be surprised if they've changed the scope of television as we know it.
Read more here:
What Netflix Can Teach Us About Online Marketing (Techcrunch)
Giving Viewers What They Want (New York Times)
Netflix's House of Cards Seeks to Redefine Television (Marketplace)
Sorting Through 'House of Cards', post-binge (Variety)
And just for fun, the parody trailer for 'House of Cardinals'