Every platform still needs content — and plenty of it — which can make for interesting, sometimes ironic relationships.
For example, NBC cancelled its 3-year-old drama “Manifest” recently, just after its first two seasons had debuted on Netflix to become the latter’s most-streamed series. Now, Netflix is reportedly in talks with Warner Bros. TV, the show’s distributor, about producing new episodes.
This should come as no surprise — especially after “Schitt’s Creek,” fueled largely by its success on Netflix rather than by its original U.S. run on cable’s Pop TV, captured nine 2020 Emmys for its final season.
Such jumps from broadcast or cable to streaming echo other moves throughout television’s history.
In the early years, local stations needed to fill their hours, and reruns of filmed network shows provided an ample supply of content. An entire industry of off-network syndication was born.
Fast-forward a few decades, and a burgeoning number of basic cable networks needed to fill their hours, so the off-network syndicators started to worm their shows onto the USAs and TNTs of the new media universe.
Now come the streaming services.
It's arguable that no TV medium has ever needed content more. Streamers don’t have just 24 hours a day to fill, but an infinite amount of time. The more content they offer, the theory goes, the more their subscribers want it.
But let’s not forget those earlier TV media are still out there, and some shows seem to be everywhere.
Take “Seinfeld,” which left Hulu June 24 after six years. It will soon be available on Netflix, which reportedly paid Sony $500 million for the privilege. But it can also still be seen on local broadcast stations and the TBS cable channel.
And come October, according to a deal in which Sony sold “Seinfeld’s” cable rights to Viacom for somewhere in the not-small-potatoes $45 million range, “Seinfeld” reruns will move to such Viacom cable channels TV Land and Comedy Central.
The only question then remaining will be when Netflix, Viacom and local stations let the aging “Seinfeld” loose to move into what may be the last recycling dump for old shows: those multicast nostalgia channels like Decades and MeTV, which now house once-mighty off-network sitcoms such as “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family.”
Another one, Nextstar Media’s Rewind TV, which launches in September, will feature shows from the '80s and '90s.
Yada, yada, yada.
In the 1950s, because viewers were craving action, a host of first -run syndicated shows appeared---"Highway Patrol", "State Trooper", "Sea Hunt" and many others. These usually wound up on network affiliates around 7PM or 10:30 on Saturdays and drew very high ratings. Many other first -run shows---"The Adventures Of Superman", "Abbot & Costello", etc. as well as many old movie cartoons--- also appeared though usually in the early evenings to woo the kiddies. Meanwhile most network affiliates fillled their early and late evening hours with vast libraries of old Hollywood and British movies---also a syndicated product. Later, after the networks began airing more recent hit movies in prime time, the affiliates switched to syndicated talk shows helmed by Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore.
The off-network rerun business was very sparce for a long time because this kind of content was mainly an independent station counter programming tool against network affiliates in the larger markets and indies were not always strong rating contenders. By the early 1970s most sitcom and drama producers figured that they had better make a profit on their network runs as syndication to independednt stations and small market network affils added only about 25% to their revenues--a few hit shows excepted.
The advent of cable plus the strenghtening of indie competition is what changed everything. Now, syndication became a major profit center for prime time producers often increasing their take by five or ten times as their shows were recycled from the stations to cable and channel to channel.. Meanwhile first- run syndication continues ---with many daytime shows, prime access entries like Wheel Of Fortune" Jeopardy" etc.
Far from being a bad tactic, reruns are one of the keys to TV's profits as many "reruns" capture new audiences that missed them the first few times around. So they generate audiences. Also, many are former hit TV shows with great stars , not run-of-the - mill productions. Even if they first saw them many years ago, fans of the shows will still watch them---as Netflix has demonstrated many times over.