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Netflix model can help TV avoid fate of music industry, says Spacey

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

The House of Cards model pioneered by Netflix offers the TV business the best way to combat content piracy and prevent it sharing the fate of the music industry, according to actor Kevin Spacey, delivering the annual MacTaggart lecture at the Guardian Edinburgh Television Festival yesterday. 

The commissioning of House of Cards by Netflix showed that TV could be made cost-effectively outside the pilot-testing model of mainstream US TV and its success demonstrated that audiences want control, freedom and the ability to “binge” view shows, said Spacey, who starred in the show.

“Clearly the success of the Netflix model – releasing the entire season of House of Cards at once has proved one thing – the audience wants control,” said Spacey. “They want freedom. If they want to binge – as they’ve been doing on House of Cards – then we should let them binge. Many people have stopped me on the street to say, ‘Thanks – you sucked three days out of my life’. And through this new form of distribution, I think we have demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn. Give people what they want – when they want it – in the form they want it in – at a reasonable price – and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it, well, some will still steal it, but I believe this new model can take a bit out of piracy.”

Spacey said it was important to create an environment where executives are “willing to take risks” and “be prepared to fail by aiming higher rather than playing it safe”.

Spacey also warned that TV was in danger of being left behind by the “warp-speed of technological advancement” in the form of the internet, streaming and multiplatform distribution. Content providers need to stay ahead of their audiences, he said. “Netflix and other similar services have succeeded because they have married good content with a forward-thinking approach to viewer habits and appetites,” he said.

He said that distinctions between film, TV, mini-series and webisodes was likely to melt away over the coming decade or two. “The device and length are irrelevant. The labels are useless – except perhaps to agents and managers and lawyers who use these labels to conduct business deals,” he said.