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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsLost in Syndication

Revival of the fittest: streaming services bring cult classics back from the dead

It’s hard to argue that subscription-based streaming services haven’t changed the TV landscape. Netflix, which led the streaming revolution, now has over 30 original programs, as well as a plethora of standup comedy specials. Netflix, however, is not the only one with skin in the game nowadays. HBO, Hulu, Amazon and even Yahoo are taking a stab at Internet-based television.

What streaming services like Netflix have that major television networks don’t is a completely different set of goals. Regular cable and broadcast shows operate strictly on how many people watch their show. Advertisers pay them based on the number of viewers a show can attract. These numbers are made public, so a show’s success, or failure, is quite obvious.

Streaming services, on the other hand, are subscription-based, meaning the only thing they care about is how many people have paid money to subscribe to their services. Netflix doesn’t rely on attracting advertisers since its viewers already pay them a premium for access to the material.

In order to keep the attention of advertisers, cable and broadcast networks rely on viewers tuning in to their programming live, at the exact airtime. The problem with this is that many people who may want to watch the programming can’t dedicate that much time every week. This has become such a problem that Nielsen, the primary ratings system for all cable and broadcast TV, has had to drastically change how it does its ratings system. Due to features like On Demand and digital video recorders, Nielsen now gives numbers for “Live Plus 3 Days,” “Live Plus 5 Days” and “Live Plus 7 Days.” Ratings have changed so much during the past decade that they’ve had to actually add the shows’ viewers over a week’s time to get a number that’s comparable to what advertisers are used to seeing.

Meanwhile, for Internet television, the emphasis on obtaining new subscribers has drastically changed how TV production and marketing operates. Netflix doesn’t have to worry about enough people tuning in on Tuesday to watch its shows, but it does have to make sure its customers have plenty of new, interesting and, most importantly, high-quality media to suck them in and keep them subscribed. However, services like Netflix have taken a completely different tack: They attempt to lure subscribers by bringing cult classics back from the dead.

So why would Netflix, Hulu and Yahoo revive failed cable and broadcast TV shows? It’s actually a genius idea, since most of the shows Netflix revived, including titles like “Arrested Development,” “The Killing” and “Trailer Park Boys,” have huge cult followings. While their fan bases were not big enough to keep advertisers interested, they were passionate enough to get people to subscribe to Netflix. Streaming services are continuing this strategy across the board with Amazon reviving BBC’s canceled “Ripper Street,” as well as Yahoo’s first-ever show and NBC’s controversial comedy, “Community.” Hulu has revived Fox’s “The Mindy Project.”

This trend will continue with streaming services because cult fans will do anything to watch their shows, including paying a monthly fee to a service like Hulu. Streaming services are the next evolution in how we watch television, and the millennial generation will most likely be the one to cut the cord to its cable boxes for good.