Netflix UK have added a director’s commentary to Season One of House of Cards.
The commentary, available exclusively on Netflix, includes directors such as David Fincher (Episodes 1 and 2), Glengarry Glen Ross’ James Foley, Parks and Recreation’s Charles McDougall, Homeland’s Carl Franklin, The Soprano’s Allen Coulter and, erm, Joel Schumacher, the man who brought us Batman & Robin.
The introduction of the DVD-style special feature follows the series’ release on DVD and Blu-ray. Those who bought the show on disc for Christmas, though, will be missing the commentary, which can only be heard by Netflix subscribers. That exclusivity may annoy many DVD consumers, but does not necessarily come as a surprise: while Sony Pictures TV is distributing the Netflix Original programme for home entertainment, Netflix will be keen to ensure that they retain their prominent status on the Media Right Capital project.
It is not the first time physical media has been trumped by digital in the special features field: last year, Star Trek Into Darkness attracted controversy when a director’s commentary from J.J. Abrams was initially only available to those who purchased the movie on iTunes. Indeed, Apple has increasingly upped its iTunes Extras packages in recent months, with a whopping 17GB of bonus content to download with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition. Even when Home Alone was added to iTunes for their 12 Days of Gifts promotion this month, the free giveaway included over 20 minutes of digital bonus features. blinkbox, too, have been introducing extras, boasting its own exclusive featurettes for the Star Trek sequel.
The rise of on-demand extras accompanies a notable move towards digital video from audiences: online video sales surged 40 per cent in 2013 in the UK, accounting for 30 per cent of all video transactions. The ground is shifting.
But people will expect the same quality of entertainment from on-demand as they have been used to on disc. For VOD providers keen to be taken seriously as the future of the industry, that means the inclusion of extras. The popularity of on-demand, though, has also seen viewers cling more tightly to their discs: Blu-ray sales increased 10 per cent last year, as the HD format establishes its position as the comprehensive option for high-quality sound and visuals plus bonus features.
Netflix’s decision to keep its directory’s commentaries to itself, then, is a big step for VOD, presenting the digital service as the definitive platform for Netflix Original programmes. The company’s introduction of 4K video in the coming year, too, will theoretically see Netflix offer the best visuals for eligible titles too.
The release of House of Cards’ directory’s commentary for the whole of Season 1 is no doubt timed to promote Season 2, which is out on Valentine’s Day. A show with its own in-built commentary from Kevin Spacey’s manipulative politician – and Netflix’s first original project – it feels like an apt choice to launch Netflix extras. But with the Internet TV company stepping up its production arm – Orange Is the New Black Season 2 is on the way and its first documentary, The Square, is out later this month – don’t be shocked if they start to announce more commentaries for Netflix Originals in the next 12 months. A cast audio track for Orange Is the New Black would be fascinating given its colourful ensemble. But if House of Cards’ digital bonuses proves popular, could we eventually see other studio titles add their own commentaries to Netflix? What about trailers? Or behind-the-scenes features? What about Amazon? Or NOW TV?
Netflix’s nature of licensing – 400 titles are axed from their catalogue tomorrow – highlights DVD and Blu-ray as a more reliable platform. For those wary of the eventual expiry of Blu-ray’s technical relevance (see VHS), though, House of Cards shows how hungry the company is to devour its rivals, both online and off.
In the words of Kevin Spacey’s Francis Underwood, “that’s how you devour a whale, one bite at a time”.