Much has been said about the ongoing “war” between the movie rental giant Netflix and the long-time king of premium cable channels, HBO. In many ways, this particular rub isn’t much different than what is going on between any number of content creators and their content distributors. While Netflix has henceforth been seen as strictly a content provider, as of yesterday afternoon, it seems as though they’ve decided to take their first venture into the original content business. This power play has caused several blogs, industry insiders and even credible news organizations to compare Netflix to HBO, given their contemptuous history and knack for obtaining quality content.
According to several sources, Netflix has offered as much as 100 Million dollars for David Fincher’s (The Social Network) adaptation of the classic U.K. political drama House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey. Netflix has purportedly agreed to two entire seasons (24 episodes) of the show without a traditional pilot episode having been produced. This is an unprecedented gamble that has never been taken by a company of Netflix’ nature. If you’re an Entourage fan, you’ll recall the episode (The Sundance Kids) in which the guys are trying to sell their latest movie at the Sundance Film Festival, entertaining offers before anyone has even seen the film. Needless to say, they receive more than one large offer for the film due to over-hype and Ari Gold’s salesmanship but in the end, the movie turns out to be a dud and everyone scatters away from it as fast as they possibly can, leaving Vince and Co. without a buyer.
For a journalist to claim that a rising star like Netflix is comparable or could even replace a long-standing creator of quality content such as HBO is specious at best. While Netflix may or may not be overpaying for a show that merely looks good on paper, it is still just that- one show. HBO has is in command of a pantheon of original content ranging from comedies like Entourage to the high fantasy of Game of Thrones. While it is, at the very least, interesting that Netflix has decided to dip it’s toe into the fickle waters of original content, it has a long way to go if it’s going to compete with the likes of Sex and the City, The Sopranos and True Blood.
It will be up to each individual Intellectual Property holder to decide whether or not it makes sense for them to make their content available on Netflix. We all dream of a world where one bill would pay for all content from everyone but because of the large number of IP holders at the table it doesn’t look like that will be possible at the low, flat, monthly fee that Netflix currently offers. Add to that the fact that Netflix hasn’t been making any friends at said negotiation table and you’ll understand why Netflix can’t simply run the gamut by offering ‘everything to everyone’ online or otherwise. HBO in particular has said that they will not put their content onto Netflix’ servers unless they are given proper compensation. Parts of this conflict may mimic the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray conflict with networks laying down big bucks for exclusivity but there are most likely too many players for one network to maintain a monopoly on all quality video content. HBO’s advantage is that it finds, produces, finances and delivers all of it’s content on it’s own. Netflix seems to need to beg, borrow and overpay for original content, though we only have one known instance of this occurring.
In the end, these “content wars” only hurt we the viewers. With so much quality content available on television, premium television, and now online, consumers are forced to choose which networks and service providers they value most. Do we subscribe to every premium network possible to gain access to our favorite shows? Should we simply sign up for Netflix? Or should we just wait for our favorites to come out on Blu-Ray and purchase them at that time? Any or all of those solutions might work well for you but in the end, it’s simply going to cost more when everyone wants their slice of the pie. Someday there may be a unifying force, a one-stop-shop for all content ala iTunes, Hulu or some new media outlet. Until that day we are all forced to choose which programs and features matter most to us. And right now it isn’t even a contest. Netflix is essentially Blockbuster via snail-mail with a dash of digital availability while HBO provides award winning content, fully available online that, as of now, cannot be replicated. When Netflix picks up a program that is even somewhat comparable to a Boardwalk Empire or Game of Thrones, that’s the time when we can start talking about the internet movie rental business as “the next HBO”.
But what do you think? Would you like to see more HBO content on your Netflix account? Can Netflix really bring HBO quality content your way? Leave your opinion in a comment below!