Sony Seeks Power Position Holding All the ‘Cards’

Distributor brings Netflix political drama ‘House of Cards’ to off-network buyers

Why This Matters

'House of Cards' will be the first and possibly the only show from Netflix offered for off-network U.S. distribution.

In Netflix’s political drama, House of Cards, Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood famously says: “Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

That’s also true for television. Shows that air on top-rated networks close to high-rated shows tend to do well themselves.

Getting high-powered time slots on a top-rated network is the goal for Sony Pictures Television, which is bringing House of Cards to the off-network market starting May 1. Season five drops on Netflix on May 30.

Moreover, interest in politics is at an all-time high while President Donald Trump’s approval rating has fallen to an historic low. SPT hopes that interest will follow House of Cards to wherever it lands.

“When we started looking at everything, with the new season premiering, the timing for this lined up perfectly,” John Weiser, president of U.S. distribution at SPT, said.

SPT has been the exclusive global distributor of House of Cards — produced by Media Rights Capital — since its 2013 debut. The show, the streaming service’s second original series to air after Lilyhammer, is one of the few for which Netflix does not own global distribution rights. That state of affairs quickly changed after Netflix saw how well House of Cards performed across the globe, and today the service makes sure it owns global rights to all of its original content.

Easing In a Hard Sell

Premium dramas have been a tough sell in the off-net market. They don’t tend to repeat well, and audiences who didn’t watch such shows in their first run on their originating premium network haven’t tended to seek them out once they became available on their local TV station or on basic cable.

The poster child for this is HBO’s The Sopranos, which was sold to A&E in 2005 for an estimated $2.5 million an episode. The show had never been seen anywhere but on premium cable.

But when The Sopranos premiered on A&E in 2007, it didn’t turn into the hit people expected. It opened well, attracting 4.3 million viewers with double runs on Wednesday nights, but soon it had to compete with Fox’s American Idol in its heyday and ABC’s Lost, and the crowd drifted off.

That was 10 years ago, and TV has changed drastically. Weiser believes there will be a loving network just waiting to welcome House of Cards to its primetime lineup.

“The shows that define every network are serialized: The Walking Dead, Scandal, American Horror Story, This Is Us, Empire,” he said. Moreover, he added, while almost everyone has heard of House of Cards, some 60% of Americans don’t subscribe to the service, meaning there are millions of people who haven’t seen the political drama.

“More than 75% of viewers who don’t have Netflix that have sampled House of Cards on a friend’s account have expressed the highest measure of intent to watch the show when available to them on a linear platform.”

An interesting option that would-be buyers could pursue is an after-show to accompany the off-net run that SPT would produce. SPT, via Michael Davies and his Embassy Row Productions, already produces AMC’s after-shows, including Talking Dead, Talking Saul and Talking with Chris Hardwick.

That program could potentially include interviews with the show’s stars, such as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and its creators, including David Fincher, forging a pretty appealing program for fans of the series.

Buyers will be able to run marathons of the show on the weekends should they choose to do so and they can make five episodes at a time available via their on-demand services.

Striking Gold

Sony’s timing may be more fortuitous than it even thought: A writers’ strike is threatening Hollywood, and if that happens, networks could really be in search of high-end content to fill their primetime schedules.

Moreover, advertisers have never appeared in the drama, since it’s only aired on subscription-based Netflix. “Some 80% of House of Cards’ viewers are adults 18-49, which is the sweet spot advertisers value reaching,” he said.

House of Cards will definitely need to be edited for broadcast, although apparently there’s far less sex, nudity and bad language in the series than one might think.

Although the show is intense and suspenseful, with lots of suggestions of sex and violence, there aren’t a ton of graphic scenes that will have to be cut.

Episodes run anywhere from 51 minutes to an hour and five minutes long, so they will have to be trimmed to accommodate broadcast and cable schedules.

Said Weiser: “House of Cards was the show that introduced binge-viewing. It changed the way people watched television forever.”