House of Cards season 3 debut causes traffic and Twitter spikes

Netflix still isn’t releasing any ratings for season 3 of House of Cards, which premiered on the service last Friday, but there are some indicators suggesting that the show is doing pretty well: Traffic management specialist Sandvine reported this week that the Netflix traffic of one unnamed U.S. ISP grew substantially over the past weekend (hat tip to DSL Reports).

On Friday and Saturday night, that ISP saw 10 to 15 percent more [company]Netflix[/company] traffic than on the preceding weekend. And on Sunday night, traffic was even up 30 to 35 percent, compared to a week ago.

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Sandvine Media and Industry Relations Manager Dan Deeth is quick to point out that this doesn’t translate into ratings. The company only sees what kind of traffic goes over a network, not which shows or movies Netflix subscribers are watching. But it’s very likely that the premiere of House of Cards had something to do with the spike.

Netflix itself has never released ratings for any of its shows, with executives arguing that ratings simply don’t matter much to a subscription business. But the company did send over some data this week that suggests that the new season of House of Cards did generate some buzz: People tweeted 648,374 times about the show during its premiere weekend, according to Netflix. And that buzz was almost global, as the top ten cities tweeting about the show included five from outside of the U.S.

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Netflix buys Beasts of No Nation for theaters and your queue

Netflix has acquired another movie, and it would like you to watch it in theaters, and then one more time online: The company will bring its new drama Beasts of No Nation in select theaters in the U.S. later this year, while simultaneously releasing it on its streaming service worldwide.

Beasts of No Nation, which tells the tale of an African child soldier, stars Idris Elba, who previously won a Golden Globe for his leading role in Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom. The movie cost [company]Netflix[/company] $12 million — a major investment for a company that has mostly concentrated on original TV show productions and has only recently begun to spend money on movies.

Last fall, Netflix announced that it has acquired the rights to a sequel of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which will be shown simultaneously in select iMax theaters and online. Netflix was planning to bring the movie to additional screens. However, AMC said that it wasn’t going be part of the release because Netflix isn’t honoring the traditional release windows, which give theaters a couple of months before a movie is available on DVD, and eventually on streaming services as well.

So why is Netflix going through the trouble of a theatrical release, if most theater chains won’t be playing ball? One word: awards. Beasts of No Nation only qualifies for the Oscars and other major motion picture awards if it is shown in theaters — even if most consumers may opt to watch it in the comfort of their own living room, as part of their Netflix subscription.

Does it matter that reviewers don’t like Netflix’s Marco Polo?

Marco Polo may be one of the most ambitious shows Netflix has produced thus far — but will it also be its biggest flop? One certainly might think so after reading a few reviews.

The streaming service is set to release the entire first season of the 13th-century explorer drama — ten episodes total — on Friday, but critics had advance access to a few episodes of the show, and they didn’t like what they saw. Here are a few examples:

Time‘s James Poniewozik had this to say about the drama:

Marco Polo […] feels less like precision targeting than a flurry of wildly fired arrows, the scattershot, overstuffed result of a ‘You Might Like…’ algorithm run amok. If you like Game of Thrones, and historical drama, and pay-cable softcore, and martial arts movies […]–and you want them crammed together, narrative sense be damned — you might like this gorgeous but ludicrous saga.”

And here’s The Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman:

“It’s just a middling mess — something so average that a basic cable channel could have duplicated it without all the foreign travel for about $84 million less.”

Finally, Grantland’s Andy Greenwald:

“Full of blood and breasts, and generally devoid of brains, Marco Polo is the sort of project designed to appeal to the largest possible audience, which is probably why I can’t for the life of me imagine it appealing to anyone. The series is a sloppy, clattering mess.”

The question is: Does it matter that critics hate the show? I’m not only asking this because audiences and critics occasionally come to very different conclusions — just think of The Da Vinci Code, which was hated by most critics, but made more than $758 million at box offices worldwide.

Marco Polo’s fate could be an indicator of the validity of one of Netflix’s key strategies, which Poniewozik alluded to in his review. The company is famous for using data, and lots of it, to predict what its audiences will like. It is spending $150 million a year on content recommendation technology in an attempt to surface the best titles for each of its subscribers, and it is also using a lot of the engagement data it gathers on its platform to figure out which other titles it should license or produce itself.

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Netflix executives have been careful in the past to stress that this kind of data doesn’t directly influence the screenwriting process, and the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos has gone on the record to say that even buying originals is “a balance of intuition and analytics.”

But Sarandos apparently also isn’t afraid to use his gut (or maybe his data) against the vote of critics. The company stuck with its horror thriller Hemlock Grove for three seasons despite critics calling the show “terrible” and “a mess.”

Perhaps most revealing, Netflix’s chief product officer Neil Hunt recently said that “there are no bad shows, just shows with small audiences.” Apparently, Netflix is betting that the audience for Marco Polo is big enough to warrant a $90 million investment.

Season 4 of The Killing goes live on Netflix

The Killing may have been too depressing for network TV, but thanks to Netflix, (S NFLX) the dark and brilliant crime drama is now back for a short final season: All six episodes of season four went live on Netflix Friday. The Killing is not a newbie on Netflix: The streaming service previously collaborated with AMC on the production of season three. But with this season being a Netflix exclusive, you’ll actually get to hear some swear words, according to an interview with executive producer Veena Sud.

Updated: Amazon may launch advertising-supported video streaming for its original programming

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Amazon has been floating the idea of an ad-supported video offering, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. The service would be separate from its Prime Instant video service and not require viewers to have a Prime subscription. There are few details about what kind of content Amazon would make available through such a service, but the company apparently at one point considered to make some of its original content available outside of the Prime paywall. However, an Amazon spokesperson has since told Variety that it tests many things, but has no plans to launch such a service. Coincidentally, Amazon is also looking to launch a TV streaming device next week.

This post was updated on 03/28 with Amazon’s response.

Netflix makes its first big original documentary purchase

Netflix (S NFLX) is bringing the award-winning documentary film the Square, which chronicles the popular uprising in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, to all of its members in early 2014. The Square won audience awards at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. For Netflix, it’s the first of a number of documentary acquisitions as the company is looking to take original content beyond TV shows and stand-up comedy specials. Next up could be Hollywood movies, which Netflix would like to get earlier than HBO and other pay TV networks.