Television history is being made with the announcement on Saturday morning that US streaming company Netflix have acquired Arrested Development and will produce a new season of the show. It’s been known for a while that there were plans to produce an Arrested Development movie and that a short-run TV series would serve to bridge the gap between the first series and the movie. This news solidifies it as a reality.

What makes this such a significant TV deal is what it represents in regards to the ‘niche-ification’ of new content on TV on demand IPTV services.

When Netflix announced that they would be moving into producing original series for their platform with the Kevin Spacey-produced series House of Cards, it was a clear strike against traditional cable TV channels. If Netflix are looking at getting into streaming original first run high-end scripted series, there really is little difference between what they provided and what is offered content-wise by HBO (the quality of their library of movies notwithstanding).

The Arrested Development announcement takes this a step further by producing content that aligns itself more with the strength of a streaming TV on demand service. Ultimately, anyone could broadcast House of Cards as it could just as easily screen on an HBO as it could an AMC, Showtime, TNT, etc. Arrested Development, however, is exactly the sort of niche program that works on an on demand service like Netflix.

The Netflix user interface works by utilising algorithms that determine the types of TV shows/movies that you’ll find appealing. If the first thing you watch is a documentary on Auschwitz, for example, you’ll immediately find the service is recommending all sorts of WW2/Nazi content. But then, the more you watch of other types of fare, the more complex and layered the recommendations become. Unless a user uses the Search feature or browses content through the Netflix website, almost all of the content displayed comes from the algorithm-based recommendations. It is tailored completely to what it has learned about your taste. It thrives in the niche.

If a TV on demand service like Netflix can send the message to its user base that they are providing a home to original content that is perfectly suited to their tastes, then the value of their service increases dramatically along with user loyalty. And that’s where Arrested Development fits in perfectly with that. It’s the first sign that Netflix are targeting original content that has a very firm audience in mind. While I expect that in coming years we’ll see new series launches like House of Cards, there will be a lot more that are geared toward very specific Netflix audiences, strengthening their niche offering.

Unless Netflix have launched in Australia by the time the series is set to be screened (is that term even apt anymore?), we can likely expect that Arrested Development Redux will be a part of a Fox International television output deal and it’ll screen on TV here as normal. With Fetch TV, Quickflix, and new services coming by established players like Telstra and Foxtel, we’re going to see a lot more attention paid to the niche locally in the very near future.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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