LONDON — Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey says television has overtaken cinema as the home of quality character-driven drama, but the industry risks failure if it doesn't recognize that viewers want control over what they watch, and when.
Spacey told the Edinburgh International Television Festival on Thursday that the success of his political thriller "House of Cards" – released in a single burst of 13 episodes on video streaming service Netflix earlier this year – showed that viewers "want freedom."
"If they want to binge – as they've been doing on `House Of Cards' – then we should let them binge," he said.
Spacey is the first actor invited to deliver the festival's keynote speech – an invitation he attributed to the success of "House of Cards'" innovative distribution model and television's creative renaissance.
"Frankly, 15 years ago I wouldn't have been up here lecturing you because my agent would never have allowed me to even consider being on a television series after winning an Oscar," said Spacey, who won Academy Awards for performances in "The Usual Suspects" and "American Beauty."
He said shows like "The Wire," "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad" proved television had taken over from the movies in terms of sophisticated storytelling, but argued that that this "golden age" was at risk if the industry did not respond to the ways new technology, the Internet and social media had changed viewing patterns.
"We no longer live in a world of appointment viewing," he said. "So the water cooler has gone virtual, because the discussion is now online.
"Studios and networks who ignore either shift – whether the increasing sophistication of storytelling, or the constantly shifting sands of technological advancement – will be left behind," he added.
Spacey said the critical and commercial success of "House of Cards" "demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn't learn – give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they'll more likely pay for it rather than steal it."
In another event at the festival Friday, Spacey said that movie producers could adopt a similar approach to help beat piracy, releasing films simultaneously online, in cinemas and on DVD.
Spacey said that "would be a huge bite out of piracy because if it's all available nobody is going to be stealing it before someone else gets it."
Spacey is currently filming a second series of "House of Cards," on which he is an executive producer. He also is artistic director of London's Old Vic Theatre.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless