After watching two of its biggest performers, off-network comedies The Office and Friends, walk out the door and onto other subscription streaming platforms recently, Netflix is about to welcome a proven breadwinner.
Sony Pictures TV’s Seinfeld will end its exclusive domestic SVOD run on Hulu June 23 and will migrate to Netflix, where it will be available in 4K and reside under the same roof as star Jerry Seinfeld’s standup specials, ostensibly on an immediate timeline (although the top subscription streaming service hasn’t yet announced a premiere date.)
The move is tied to a deal Netflix signed with Sony in 2021 to acquire global rights to all 180 episodes of Seinfeld, which has become the most profitable show in television history. Neither Netflix or Sony have released deal terms, but the Los Angeles Times pegged the value of the agreement as surpassing the $500 million pocket-to-pocket transaction executed by NBCUniversal to take The Office back from Netflix and put it on Peacock at the beginning of this year.
Programming performance metrics in video streaming are, of course, tough to come by. But based on the nascent measurement program initiated by Nielsen in September of last year—one tracked weekly and closely by Next TV—it was clear that The Office was consistently Netflix’s top performing show before it left the platform at 11:59 p.m. on December 31 of last year.
Likewise, Warner Bros. TV’s Friends departed Netflix precisely a year earlier as the platform’s most popular show of 2019, following WarnerMedia’s own $425 million pocket-to-pocket deal to put the classic NBC Must-See Thursday Night sitcom on HBO Max.
As the media conglomerates, still slack-jawed that they allowed Netflix to exceed their own market capitalization on Wall Street by providing it with their family jewels, continue to close ranks, other venerable off-net comedies have been pulled back to their mother ships, as well—such as Warner Bros.’ Chuck Lorre series The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, which are also on HBO Max as part of a pocket-to-pocket deal reportedly worth $1.5 billion.
So that leaves the so-called “Show About Nothing,” which debuted 32 years ago and elevated creator Larry David and star Seinfeld to the exalted level of comedy icon/geniuses, described by one critic recently as the TV sitcom equivalent to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Netflix remains streaming’s most powerful platform for off-network shows—comedies like the Emmy-winning Schitt’s Creek and New Girl routinely routinely draw 400 million or more streaming minutes in a given week, according to Nielsen. And procedural dramas like NCIS and medical melodrama Grey’s Anatomy are often the most popular shows among the major U.S. SVODs on weeks in which no big original series breaks through.
And certainly, in the aftermarkets, Seinfeld has been unrivaled, entering into an unprecedented fifth contract cycle of broadcast syndication in 2015, the year in which the Financial Times calculated its total revenue haul to have reached $3.1 billion. According to Broadcasting & Cable data, Seinfeld generated $2.3 billion in its first three syndication cycles alone. Cable channel deals to outlets like TBS have generated another $379 million.
Then came video streaming—with Hulu paying a now-seemingly-very-affordable $160 million in 2015 for six years of exclusive U.S. subscription streaming rights to Seinfeld.
The question now is, more than 21 years after Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer signed off in the show’s baffling May 1998 finale, how many more laughs can classic gags like "The Soup Nazi," "Schmoopie" and "The Close Talker" generate? Will new generations, raised in a world in which Seinfeld's pioneering brand of comedic storytelling has been widely assimilated, be interested in the original recipe?
There's probably no better platform than Netflix to find this out.
“Seinfeld is the television comedy that all television comedy is measured against,” Neflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said in 2019, at the time of the acquisition. “It is as fresh and funny as ever and will be available to the world in 4K for the first time.”
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