Friday, 14 February 2014

House of Cards is back on Netflix to ruin your marriage.

February 14th 2014, is a very special day and one you should be very excited about if you have a penchant for high quality story-telling and incredible performances. For most people February 14th symbolises one thing - Valentine's day. A time of year when we typically show the ones we love how much we care for them. This year however, things are a little different and that's because on Friday February 14th 2014, Netflix releases its eagerly anticipated second season of the Emmy award winning House of Cards.

For those of you living under a rock or for whatever reason weren't able to catch the first season, House of Cards is Netflix's third original series and is a remake of a classic BBC television series with the same name. The US version is a slick, contemporary adaptation catapulting its audience into the murky world of American politics by way of Washington double-dealing and villainous horse-trading! It's all devilishly sinister! Not something you might typically associate with Valentines day.

Season one got viewers heart rates pumping and left us clamouring for more as we watched Francis Underwood, a Democratic US congressman, passed over for the position of Secretary of State, plot with his wife to gain bitter revenge against those who betrayed him. All in the name of professional advancement.

Perhaps the most captivating element of the whole show is the curious relationship between its two enigmatic leads, Francis Underwood, played by the immortal Kevin Spacey, and his stoic wife Claire, brilliantly brought to life by Robin Wright.

We spend a good deal of time in season one trying to decipher the true nature of Francis and Claire's relationship. The parameters of their marriage are clearly defined during an unforgettable scene where Claire explains to a dying member of their security staff (whom has just divulged his feeling of unrequited love for her), why she married Francis.

“You know what Francis said to me when he proposed? I remember his exact words. He said, ‘Claire if all you want is happiness, say no. I’m not going to give you a couple of kids and count the days until retirement. I promise you freedom from that. I promise you you’ll never be bored.’ You know, he was the only man—and there were a lot of others who proposed—who understood me.”

Adultery is tolerated as a necessary evil within their marriage so-long as they never turn away from each other. I wonder how much of this is true if you're a Sky TV customer and your currently enjoying a dalliance with Netflix? Perhaps if Francis is allegorical of the consumer then his marriage to Claire could represent consumers traditional marriage to cable providers such as BSkyB. If this can be accepted (even if its only for the purpose of this blog), then Francis' relationship with Zoe Barnes might symbolise the consumers inclination to flirt with new exciting and disruptive opportunities such as Netflix.

Exploring Francis & Claire's relationship in any depth falls outside the purview of this blog. If you want to read more about their relationship then I highly recommend "More Than Sharks Love Blood" a term used by Francis to describe how he feels about his wife, written by Hanna Rosin and available by clicking here.

The curious thing about House of Cards season 2 is, like the first season, it is being released as a box set everywhere, simultaneously. It is precisely this distribution model which is proving to be so disruptive and which is giving cable providers some pause for thought.

House of Cards is Netflix's $100m play to convince consumers that the device we watch our content on is no longer relevant. Last year Kevin Spacey gave the MacTaggart speech during the Edinburgh Festival where he reiterated that consumption is being liberated by new opportunities, saying:

'If you're not watching it [a film] in a theatre? If you watch a TV show on your iPad, is it no longer a TV show? The device and the length are irrelevant; the labels are useless.'

I urge you to watch the entire speech here:

Binge consumption of content is nothing new. I remember splurging hours away whilst at University watching box sets of the highly addictive 24 and The Sopranos, however I think it wasn't until the arrival of Netflix that the Urban Dictionary allocated a verb to describe the behaviour of lazily consuming vast quantities of high quality content. I particularly like the way the Urban Dictionary justifies Netflixing as 'a totally valid excuse for avoiding social obligations'.

In 2014, BSkyB will celebrate its 25th anniversary and whilst BSkyB has arguably been very successful at staving off the competition up until now (anyone remember ESPN and Setanta), this year is likely to be a very different animal.

Exclusive sports have long been the cornerstone of Sky's dominance but as BT have acquired rights to key premier league football fixtures, subscription numbers have begun to dwindle. 

Tim Westcott, a TV analyst at IHS is quoted by Variety as saying "The growth in Sky's core business is slowing down as the British pay TV market matures. In the past year, there's been a real drop off in the number of new TV subscribers" 

Much like Netflix, Sky has embarked on producing its own original content. The budget BSkyB is allocating towards original content is almost double that of Netflix who are spending around $300m on their own content. BSkyB on the other hand is reported to be throwing an impressive £600m behind original programming.

Sky has also made numerous box sets available 'On Demand' to satisfy the binging audience and have also made their content available without a subscription for the first time on a whole host of devices from the hugely successful Apple TV to YouView.

The real winner in the UK Pay TV market place though has to be Virgin Media (at least in the short term). By allowing Netflix to be deployed as a native feature of Virgin Media TiVo boxes, Virgin has shown signs of reducing its reliance on Sky Movies and can also use the move to leverage its sales of super fast fibre-optic broadband.  

I have visions of Richard Branson sitting with Reed Hasting's, Netflix's CEO, in a dimly lit room one evening, echoing a scene from the first season of House of Cards where Francis turns to his wife Claire and says “We’ll have a lot of nights like this; making plans, very little sleep.”  Claire is up for the challenge, so it would seem is Virgin Media!

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a very biased blog; pro Netflix and against BSkyB but the truth is just the opposite. Sky can be commended on the way it has met some of these new challenges. Competition isn't always a bad thing and just because BSkyB is being forced to be reactive, is not altogether negative; what is important is the manner of the reaction. Netflix may have House of Cards but Sky still has Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Girls and a raft of other American TV classics. 

BSkyB still has 10.5m subscribers in the UK and Ireland and can boast £6bn turnover per year. It also has exclusive rights to content from 3 of the big 6 studios and by losing the rights to some key sporting fixtures it now has more disposal cash to invest in emerging opportunities such as Now TV and original content. Like Netflix, Sky has also embraced the tablet generation by making it's content available on apps too such as Sky Go. 

Currently Netflix is perceived as the darling of Wall Street with stock values maintaining an upward trajectory. How sustainable this is, is a matter for securities analysts. Late last week TechCrunch reported that Netflix intend to take on an additional $400m of debt for their European expansion which might also include acquisitions.

Are you a Sky TV subscriber here in the UK? Are you happy with your service or do you think you're  paying too much for your subscription; alternatively are you a Virgin Media user? Are you enjoying having Netflix on your set top box? Have you found yourself watching less SkyMovies since the introduction of Netflix?

I can't wait for the new season of House of Cards. Come back to me once you've watched it. How quickly you do will tell me a lot about you!

Nathan Haines is the Managing Director of Element 26 Ltd, a fully-integrated production company producing high quality video content for brands. Got any thoughts on this blog or would like to discuss video opportunities for your business, then drop a note in the comments box below. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

How to be the star of your own movie... or rather should you be?!

I was pounding the treadmill this morning at my local gym when the latest Dyson advert appeared on one of the large TV screens in front of me. What struck me about this commercial was not so much the product itself but rather the decision to give so much air time to the product's charismatic inventor, James Dyson. 

I really like the fact that Mr Dyson is prepared to get up in front of his products but I wonder if the agency behind these commercials has considered all of the risks associated with this approach: if customers come to associate a brand or business with a particular individual then what happens when that individual is no longer around to campaign for that brand?

Jellyfish are the Brighton based agency responsible for bringing the Virgin Media commercials featuring Richard Branson to our television sets. Regardless of what you may personally think of these commercials, Jellyfish have been very smart in how they have utilised Mr Branson.

Maybe it's because Richard Branson is already an established brand in his own right that what he really brings to these adverts is a sign of his approval or a sort of quality control. Quite a feat when you consider the fact that his very presence has the potential to overshadow the message these adverts are trying to convey.

I often advise business leaders to get out in front of their products or services, after all if they can't do it how can they expect anyone else to trust them. However, if you are considering taking a starring role within your own video work then by all means do so, just make sure the focus remains on the product otherwise your greatest asset (you) risks becoming your biggest liability!

What do you think? Are you be prepared to front your business? Do you find Richard Branson distracting in the Virgin Media commercials? Feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts below!

Thanks for reading and don't forget to follow me on Twitter @nathanhaines

Nathan Haines
MD Element 26 Ltd

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