In September, House of Cards and Arrested Development made television history when both received Emmy nominations.
The nominations made the news not because of the seven-year gap between the current and last season of Arrested Development, and not because House of Cards took home the statue for Outstanding Director, Drama Series. The nods--and the win--were notable because both shows were produced by Netflix. Unlike other award winners AMC (Breaking Bad), ABC (Modern Family) or HBO (Behind the Candelabra), Netflix is not a television channel. It is, however, changing the way we view television.
Founded in 1997, Netflix began as a small DVD-by-mail service. Where brick-and-mortar movie rental stores charged late fees that easily exceeded the cost of the actual DVD, the price for forgetting to mail a DVD back to Netflix was minimal: Subscribers weren't sent another DVD until the first was returned. The service offered a low monthly subscription cost, postage-paid return envelopes, a steadily growing catalog and the eventual inclusion of streaming video. It even offered (and paid out) a $1 million prize for the creation of an algorithm that would "substantially improve the accuracy of predictions about how much someone is going to enjoy a movie based on their movie preferences."
But in the 16 years since Netflix sent out the first red-and-white envelope, its growth hasn't been without its pains.
Bad press drowned out any good buzz when Netflix split its streaming and mail subscriptions; and pundits pondered the health of Netflix after Starz pulled its nearly 2,000 movie titles from the service. Netflix not only survived, it's bigger and stronger than ever. It continues to produce original programming, including the highly popular Orange is the New Black, releasing entire seasons at once in response to its subscribers' desire for "binge viewing."
Netflix clearly knows the value of giving the people what they want, because its subscribers are legion: In late October, Netflix reported to its shareholders that it now has 40 million subscribers in 41 countries--up from 30 million in 2012. And there's more to come.
An Oct. 14 article by The New York Times revealed that "cable companies, including Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox Communications, are talking with Netflix about ... making the subscription service--and other online video services--available through the set-top boxes that most Americans have in their living rooms." On Oct. 31, allthingsd.com reported that "Netflix is floating the idea that it will foot the bill for a 'big' movie, which would appear in theaters and on Netflix at the same time."
Think that's far-fetched? The creator of one of the most successful shows in TV history credits Netflix for getting viewer buy-in.
Vince Gilligan told Variety that Breaking Bad wouldn't have made it past season one if not for Netflix timing the availability of past seasons so subscribers could catch up before the next season aired on AMC.
Gilligan told reporters, "I think Netflix kept us on the air," after Breaking Bad won the 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. "Not only are we standing up here [with the Emmy], I don't think our show would have even lasted beyond season two."