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Prediction: On Friday, the Internet will not come to a screeching halt

Will House of Cards Season 3 binge-watchers kill the Internet? If past is prologue, probably not.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

If you haven't watched the Netflix series House of Cards, you've missed something special. Twisted. But special. Conniving politician Frank Underwood has clawed and schemed his way all the way to the presidency... and that's where the last season left off.

On Friday, February 27, 2015, Netflix will release all 15 episodes of Season 3, opening up the doors to what some expect to be an explosion of binge-watching. During peak hours, Netflix consumes roughly a third of all downstream Internet traffic in the United States. No wonder the carriers are screaming about paying for Netflix' distribution.

So given that Netflix already consumes a ton of downstream traffic and given that House of Cards is a genuine, Game of Thrones-magnitude hit, can we expect to see the Internet come to a screeching halt on Friday afternoon? Some, like product director and senior editor of Quartz Zachary Seward, think so. Seward, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, thought so last year. He wrote:

Consider what will happen tomorrow, Feb. 14, when Netflix releases all 13 episodes of the second season of House of Cards, its acclaimed political drama. Owing to positive reviews of the first season and aggressive marketing by Netflix, demand for the show is likely to be strong. Throw in some terrible weather, and it's easy to imagine a huge portion of the 33.4 million households that subscribe to Netflix's streaming service in the United States trying to watch House of Cards at the same time on Friday night.

And there was, indeed, a surge last year. According to a Procera analytics report, quoted everywhere including Variety, only about 2 percent of Netflix subscribers binge-watched all of Season 2 on opening night. Compared to the previous year, there was a 4-times growth in viewership and roughly 6 to 10 percent of all Netflix subscribers watched at least one Season 2 episode on the first night.

The 4X growth makes sense. Viewers were new to the first episodes of House of Cards, but by the beginning of the second season, many -- including my wife and me -- not only watched the US version, but when out of episodes, watched the original British version (good, but not Kevin Spacey-good) to keep us temporarily sated, living vicariously through fictional political lizard people.

But also like my wife and me, very few people have the luxury of being able to consume 13 hours of any sort of TV.

So while we're very much looking forward to Season 3, we're not going to binge watch it. Instead of watching something else, we'll watch an episode (or maybe two) of the House of Cards. It's tough keeping up with all the TV when you have a busy life. We still haven't made it all the way through Battlestar Galactica or Deadwood.

This subjective perspective is borne out in last year's data. According to Procera, while many Netflix users flocked to the new season of House of Cards, they did not see "a statistically significant increase in overall Netflix traffic."

In other words, the Internet is safe. At least from Frank Underwood.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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