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Monday, April 22, 2024

Despite all of the negative attention Netflix has gotten from the media over the past six months, such as the failed attempt to split the company into two services, the price changes and the loss of its contract with Starz Play, the company has managed to conjure up something that can separate it from its competition: streaming original content. It's about time that Netflix pleased its audience and announced good news.

On Feb. 6, the video-streaming giant launched its first original series, "Lilyhammer." Such a move is a breakthrough in the entertainment business because it shows that streaming services such as Netflix can strike deals with other entertainment corporations (in this case Norwegian Broadcasting Company [NRK]) and give viewers something that no one on this side of the Atlantic Ocean can.

"Lilyhammer" was produced collaboratively by Netflix and NRK and originally aired in Norway on Jan. 25. The show set a Norwegian record of 1.2 million viewers watching new episodes as they aired for the past few weeks. The series was scheduled to launch on Jan. 1, but was delayed due to Norwegian allegations of illegal product placement.

The eight-episode series set in Lillehammer, Norway, stars Steven Van Zandt, who is known for his role as Silvio Dante on the hit TV series "The Sopranos." "Lilyhammer" is about Van Zandt's character, a former mobster named Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, who is relocated through a witness protection program to Lillehammer after testifying against a New York mob boss. Tagliano chose Lillehammer because he was intrigued by the city after he saw it on TV in the 1994 Winter Olympics. While Tagliano (now Giovanni "Johnny" Hendriksen) understands Norwegian, he is still a misfit in Norway. Tagliano/Hendriksen will be a familiar character to American audiences as they empathize and acclimate to the new land and language along with the series' main character.

In the past, TV companies have aired new episodes on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis to keep viewers coming back for more; however, Netflix released all eight episodes on the series' launch date. Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, said the company was giving its members what they wanted: choice and control. The ability to go on a binge of their favorite TV series is one of the many reasons Netflix viewers use the service, and "Lilyhammer" was going to follow that model despite being a new series. The production quality of "Lilyhammer" is something one would expect from a premium pay-per-view TV service, but Netflix does not charge extra to watch this new series.

Bold moves like these are attempts by Netflix to separate itself from the rest of its competition in the video-streaming industry. The same day "Lilyhammer" was released, Verizon announced a deal with Coinstar (the parent company of Redbox) to provide a video-streaming service in direct competition with Netflix later this year. Also, Amazon.com has struck a licensing agreement with media giant Viacom to offer 15,000 videos to Amazon Prime customers through its video-streaming service over the next few months.

In addition to "Lilyhammer," Netflix already has plans to air two other original series. A new series called "House of Cards" is a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher (director of "Fight Club") that is based on a 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name and will air in late 2012. A brand new season of "Arrested Development," a series that was canceled by Fox six years ago, will air in 2013.

"Lilyhammer" can be viewed on Netflix's streaming subscriptions that start at $7.99/month for unlimited streaming. New members will receive a free one-month trial at https://signup.netflix.com

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