This week, I became convinced that this is now the Wild West phase of streaming video, a crucial period when there are no actual rules and all the players are making big “land grabs” for content. On Tuesday, Netflix stakes a substantial claim with its full-season exclusive premiere of BBC2's “The Fall,” starring Gillian Anderson of “The X-Files.”
This is not the first time this spring that Netflix has offered a multi-episode arc of a BBC2 production. The service offered the extraordinary Jane Campion miniseries “Top of the Lake,” starring Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men,” in late April, but it came only after all seven episodes ran on Sundance Channel. This time out, “The Fall” makes its U.S. debut on Netflix with no side trips into the cable spectrum.
Everything about this series suggests an uncompromising and thoroughly engrossing crime drama. Anderson plays Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, who leads the investigation of Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan of “Once Upon a Time”), a serial killer whose grisly murders have brought Belfast, Ireland, to a standstill.
Like many of the best BBC series, this first season (or series, if you're British) of “The Fall” keeps its arc to five episodes, a storytelling format that allows for greater focus than even domestic cable's abbreviated 13-episode standard.
Granted, British series have a specialized, niche appeal stateside, but the success of “Downton Abbey” and domestic audience growth for “Doctor Who” and the new series “Orphan Black” on BBC America suggest that the demand for BBC's quality dramas is expanding.
Furthermore, series such as Kenneth Branagh's “Wallander,” which returns next year with three concluding episodes, have found new life and bigger U.S. audiences thanks to Netflix and Amazon Prime.
And given the recent uptick in Anderson's profile — the former Agent Scully has appeared on “Hannibal” this season and will show up in the new NBC series “Crisis” during the 2013-14 season — Netflix' acquisition of “The Fall” was a no-brainer.
But now, the streaming services are starting to see British series as a growth area for exclusive deals — witness Amazon Prime's arrangement for exclusive streaming rights to “Downton Abbey.”
When “The Fall” premiered earlier this month in the U.K., it garnered the largest audience for a British series debut in five years.
Without question, Netflix and Prime will be closely watching the numbers for overseas series as both services jockey for fresh content to feed their streams.