According to a recent report, Netflix is negotiating with several American cable companies in an effort to become a feature in regular set-top boxes. Comcast is one of the companies considering adding Netflix streaming to its boxes, The Wall Street Journal claims. Netflix has already struck such deals in Sweden and the United Kingdom. Why would Comcast be interested in boosting Netflix? One possible explanation is Breaking Bad. The cult show debuted to tepid ratings — the fourth season finale grabbed only 1.9 million viewers. But after Netflix added the show to its roster and offered it robust support, the show’s audience soared during its last two seasons. For its final episode, Breaking Bad was watched by a stunning 10.3 million viewers.
Ratings of that last episode hit 5.2 in the 18-49 age group. As a comparison point, NBC rated 1.1 for that demographic with its most recent Thursday primetime sitcom lineup — the lowest in the network’s history. Some of those comedies suffered disastrous, 20%-plus week-on-week ratings declines. NBC’s response to the Thursday night massacre? Signing Meg Ryan. That is how desperate the old broadcast ratings champion has become.
As broadcast television continues stumbling, cable giants like Comcast have realized that Netflix can be a golden opportunity to boost consumer awareness of cable television shows, turning them from niche items to centerpieces of national conversation. Perhaps adding Netflix to set-top boxes is going to give cable TV cult shows an even broader platform, enticing consumers to check out early seasons of quirky efforts like “Veep” and “Web Therapy.”
Netflix and cable television may be in the process of realizing their future lies in forging an intimate collaboration that will help topple the already wobbly broadcast TV edifice. Shockingly, TBS already pulled ahead of NBC in last Thursday’s demo rating derby. That might be just a preview of the coming attractions.