It's been a long time coming, but Netflix original programming is finally here. Introducing Lilyhammer, the debut original series from the Netflix streaming video service.
Lilyhammer, starring former Sopranos star Steven Van Zandt, is the first show to be released by Netflix as part of the company's move towards creating premium content. Although the show was just unveiled, all eight episodes of the first season are available online for immediate viewing.
Lilyhammer is a dark but comedic look at the life of a New York mobster who is sent to Lillehammer, Norway after entering the Witness Protection Program. "This show is different in many ways," wrote Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos on the company blog. "First of all, this is surely the most ambitious original show to premiere online in history. The presence of an American star like Van Zandt and the production quality and the length of the episodes position Lilyhammer in the class of programing usually only found on premium pay television."
The arrival of Lilyhammer has the potential to usher in a new era for streaming video services. It has already been airing in Norway for five weeks and a deal has be struck with the BBC to bring the show to British television in the future. Sarandos has even claimed that Lilyhammer is already the most watched show in Norwegian television history! In America, Canada, and Latin America the show is available in its entirety for audiences to watch online, but there are no plans at the moment for it to air on a traditional television network.
"[Original programming at Netflix] is something between a test or an experiment and a full-fledged initiative," said Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey. "We're not putting all the wood behind the arrow and we're not just dabbling in it either...It's something we're working on, but the major portion of our budget is still going to be our TV shows and movies." Netflix will certainly be keeping an eye on how well its first foray into original programming fares, but it's nowhere near ready to switch its focus away from shows and films from popular television networks and movie studios.
As television shows and films become increasingly expensive, original content may be the path that Netflix is forced to take. Many of Netflix's major contracts expire in 2012 and 2013, leaving the future of the service a bit uncertain. For now, check out Lilyhammer and keep your eyes peeled for Netflix's next high profile premieres: a new season of Arrested Development and a David Fincher/Kevin Spacey collaboration called House Of Cards.