The ground-breaking Emmy award winning television series House of Cards took the internet by storm later last month. Produced by streaming website Netflix, an estimated 630,000 people in the U.S alone managed to stay awake and binge watch all 13 episodes of season two in a single weekend, possibly making it the world’s largest communal TV-marathon. Perhaps an even more astonishing statistic speaks to the adoption of Netflix itself with over 31% of all download space during peak times being download from Netflix. To put that in perspective, all Facebook activity only takes up 1.31%. For those unfamiliar with the show and without giving away any spoilers, House of Cards is a contemporary political tale that follows Francis Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) as he seeks ruthless revenge against other fraught politicians in pursuit of unquenchable power. This is Kevin Spacey is at his best as he goes inside the mind of this charming psychopath, his little soliloquies keep you intimately close as he divulges his inner most desires and personal musings.
After watching season one for the second time it would be hard to admit any fault in the show without feeling like I would be betraying a newly made friend. Each episode contains everything you need: it’s suspenseful, escapist, unpredictable and highly addictive. But this aside, given all the other quality series that are out there, what explains the overwhelming success and popularity of House of Cards?
Thinking beyond the box it’s easy to recognise that our taste for news and politics has changed in a 24-hour world. Our insatiable appetite for news and politics has meant that more content is needed, inevitably leading to less substantive stories containing gossip, rumour and personal escapades. Journalists want more than ever to expose another Obeid, Slipper or Thompson just as much as we want to read about it. For many on the outside of the establishment, politics is more engaging as entertainment and repugnant when concerning the realities of running the country. This is unfortunately evident when the popularity of a fictional conniving Congressman engages over 600,000 Americans one weekend while the actual Congress is more unpopular than ever before. Sitting right next to news and responsible for its transcendence is technology. As one reviewer wrote in praise of Netflix’s releasing of House of Cards, “People would rather watch a series on their own terms, without ads, and they’re willing to pay a nominal fee to do so”. Of course, this is just the beginning of what is to come but the release of a full season has completely shattered the old seasonal model. Technology was also the factor that allowed the huge gamble that Netflix took in the first place in producing this multi-million dollar show for its subscribers. Although traditional TV still has a while left, our consumption habits have shifted. We want it portable, instant and without delay, because at 3am, the internet wins every time.