Netflix Watch Instantly: A Sea Change for TV

Wow. Netflix's Watch Instantly service will the only place to see a new 26-episode version of House of Cards which is based on the British show. It stars Kevin Spacey and is executive-produced by David Fincher, and generally sounds like something that you'd expect to show up on HBO or some other cable channel.

If this works -- and even if it doesn't -- it could be one of the most important things that ever happened in the TV business. It could turn Netflix Watch Instantly from a place you go to watch somewhat stale old stuff into the only destination for a hot new program -- and it could set off massive changes in how television content is distributed.

Isn't the biggest single advantage that cable has over the Internet that it has the big shows first? What if that wasn't a given? What if Netflix does more of these deals and starts to look more like an on-demand, all-you-can-eat HBO? Wouldn't iTunes and Amazon and other well-heeled purveyors of Internet video be interested in doing similar exclusive deals? What if a sizable chunk of the most popular shows are Internet-only by, say, 2015?

Over at All Things D, Ted Sarandos, Netflix's head of content, is downplaying the significance of the news. And the show doesn't premiere until late next year. But I suspect it'll be clear pretty quickly whether this arrangement is the minor shift in approach that Sarandos describes or the great big deal that it could be.

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