Despite warnings from showrunner Mitch Hurwitz not to watch all 15 episodes of Arrested Development's big streaming return in one sitting, a large percentage of Netflix subscribers did just that this Memorial Day weekend — even more so than they did for the service's expensive gamble on a House of Cards full-season dump — in an immediate vindication that the on-demand original series is worth all the development, and that true couch potatoes don't care about bad reviews. Indeed, despite less than stellar reviews, viewing statistics released Tuesday by the analytics firm Procera show that a full 10 percent of Netflix users guzzled all the way to the season four finale of Bluth family mayhem on Sunday and Monday alone. (Netflix has 29.2 million U.S. subscribers, so that would mean something like 3 million people binged through the entire series.) As you can see in our chart below, that's way more than made it through the first major Netflix Originals program when House of Cards debuted — and gained subscribers — back in February:
You would expect a cult classic's return after a post-cancellation hiatus of seven years to bring in big numbers for the premiere, but Arrested Development also saw a smaller drop-off rate than House of Cards, an addictive new series with decidedly better reviews. The big new audience numbers could be an indication that Netflix's original programming has gained momentum as an all-you-eat medium, beyond just the legitimacy lost on poor critical reception and the legitimacy of high-profile casts and directors. Hemlock Grove, a less-blogged-about Netflix original that premiered last month to pretty much terrible reviews, drew more viewers than House of Cards, at least according to Netflix's vague internal figures. The masses, it seems, may like the act of watching an entire new show in an entire weekend — even if they only like the show itself so much.
Enough of the masses also liked Arrested Development enough to pirate it: According to TorrentFreak, 100,000 users illegally downloaded the new episodes — and that was just in the first 24 hours after Netflix put season four online, at around 3 a.m. Eastern early Sunday morning. Procera, which tracks usage across five of the top 10 major American Internet service providers (the show may yet be big in Little Britain and beyond), also indicated that its data showed "significant file sharing" without offering any specifics on how much or which episodes. While pirating certainly cuts into Netflix's subscriptions, the Internet chatter bounce can be a good thing for networks that are so far ahead of the competition on the streaming game: "I probably shouldn't be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts," HBO co-president Michael Lombardo said in March about illegal downloads of Game of Thrones, one of HBO's most popular shows that also happens to top the pirating charts. "The demand is there."
For Netflix, that addiction certainly remains — and the season penetration percentage may be a bigger long-term indicator of success than total viewers. Because Netflix's new business model depends on the binge viewer: Reed Hastings's service wants to create the stickiest content possible — programming that get users so hooked that they want not only to sit down and watch an entire series but also, as we've described in-depth, to pace around in so much virtual anticipation of the next binging thing that the users simple cannot unsubscribe from Netflix. The loyal user is the profitable user, and Netflix has now repeatedly built loyalty on craving, reviews be damned. (The service may release its own internal numbers on Arrested Development, but likely not for weeks.) As far as Netflix is concerned, its rollout of Netflix-exclusive programming is working so well that Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has hinted the company will double its output from four to eight programs next year. In other words, Netflix is becoming a real live television network in the Internet age. Next up: funny zombies and Wachowskis. And it might not even matter if the critics indulge.