Behind the Money

Netflix 'House of Cards' Nearly Trumps 'Girls': Survey

Source: Netflix/HBO

Who would have guessed Kevin Spacey could be as cool as Lena Dunham?

"House of Cards," the political drama starring the veteran actor, was watched by 10 percent of Netflix subscribers in its first 12 days of availability, according to a survey by Cowen research.

Netflix's Big Bet on Kids Content
Netflix's Big Bet on Kids Content

Given that the company has 27 million U.S. streaming customers at the end of 2012, that means more than 2.7 million viewers may have watched some of the 13 episodes of the series.

"The early returns for 'House of Cards' were excellent," said Cowen's John Blackledge, in the report. "The series gained strong marks with about 80% of all viewers rating it good or exceptional and 90% of viewers were positive on the simultaneous release of all 13 episodes."

By comparison, the season opener of Time Warner's "Girls" last month drew just 1.6 million viewers over three telecasts, according to Nielsen and Variety magazine, which called the cult hit "HBO's hottest and most-buzzed about comedy since 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and 'Sex and the City.'"

To be fair, the opening telecast for "Girls" had 4 million-plus viewers in the following days based on repeats and DVR-viewing. Plus, the show about hip, twenty-something New Yorkers averaged a cumulative 4.6 million viewers per episode last season.

Still, for Netflix to score an original content hit that even approaches the marquee programs of an HBO without the same marketing complex behind it, it must be considered a big win for a streaming service often criticized for its weak selection of programming.

"Original programming could drive a stickier sub base over time," said Cowen's Blackledge, noting that the survey showed that 86 percent of "House of Cards" viewers said they were less likely to cancel their Netflix subscription after viewing the series.

The analyst is maintaining a neutral rating on the shares because he believes these figures are already reflected in the stock, which has doubled already this year.

(Read More: Netflix Content Could Be Game-Changer: Analyst)

Cowen's survey was of 1,229 people in the U.S., including 346 Netflix streaming subscribers. Netflix will not release official viewing figures for the Spacey series.

The next move from Netflix could push it firmly into the echelon of original niche content kings like HBO, Showtime and AMC. The streaming service is reviving the short-lived Fox series "Arrested Development" this year. The comedy starring Jason Batemen was canceled in 2006 because of poor ratings, despite an Emmy win and critical acclaim. The show's reruns are a cult hit and Time Magazine called it one of the "100 Best TV Shows of All-Time."

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