US drama set for rare online launch

KEVIN SPACEY: <I>House of Cards</i> star.
KEVIN SPACEY: <I>House of Cards</i> star.

The political drama House of Cards is the type of blockbuster show that dominates the television schedules.

The American remake of the BBC 1990s drama has a cast of Hollywood actors and cost millions to produce.

The show, which stars Kevin Spacey in the leading role, has its worldwide premiere tomorrow. But the series will not be screened on any TV channel. Instead, it will be aired exclusively over the internet.

It can only be seen on Netflix, the video streaming service that allows people to watch movies and television over the web. More than 1 million people in Britain have signed up since its launch last year, reflecting the changing habits of television viewers, who now often prefer to watch programmes on a telephone, tablet or computer.

House of Cards will be screened with all 13 episodes available at the same time - a nod to how people prefer to consume their favourite programmes, in box sets.

Netflix subscribers pay to gain access to the service.

"No-one's ever done it like this before," said Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix.

"Consumers can watch it when they want, how they want. Usually, it's released in the United States and then dribbles out to the rest of the world. With this, we're launching worldwide at the same time."

Though a few television shows have made their debuts on the web before, few have the pedigree of House of Cards.

American producers have long wanted to recreate the award-winning British mini-series that revolves around the devious machinations of a government minister played by Ian Richardson. The US version follows Francis Underwood, played by Spacey, a powerful congressman who seeks revenge after being spurned in his attempt to become the Secretary of State.

It is the first attempt at television by David Fincher, the acclaimed director of Fight Club and The Social Network, and Eric Roth, who wrote scripts for Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The New York Times describes it as "a modern-day Macbeth . . . as suspenseful as anything on television".

Netflix paid about US$100 million (NZ$119m) to gain the rights and finance its production and has committed to a second series. YouTube is to spend US$100m on developing new programmes that can be watched on its video-sharing website.

The Times

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