Seinfeld has never made a huge cultural impact in the UK. Maybe that's because in its heyday it only showed on BBC2 (and even then its last few seasons were on late at night). Maybe the humour relied to much on American cultural touchstones that – for whatever reason – just didn't translate to the UK in the way that, say, Friends did.
Anyway, Netflix just paid over half a billion dollars for the right to stream it worldwide from 2021, so they clearly think it's worth the investment.
But there's more going on than just "it's a good show". Let's look into a little history first.
Seinfeld ran for nine seasons through the '90s, managing to increase its audience almost every year till it peaked in its final run with 22million viewers. That alone would mark it out for the history books, but what really put the fancy ribbon on it was what happened when the show was syndicated (ie when the original network licensed the broadcast rights to independent TV stations around the USA).
They expected to make a few hundred million from it – as you would from a successful sitcom. It ended up earning over $4billion. Co-creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld both reputedly made half a billion each from the deals (if you want them, you can find them popping Cristal in their diamond space-jacuzzis, which they upgraded from platinum space-jacuzzis following the Netflix payout).
So it's a popular show, with a big, returning audience. Music to Netflix's ears at any time, but right now, that music is especially loud, because they just lost Friends to HBO Max and The Office to Universal.
The success of Stranger Things season three buoyed up their stock in the summer and hinted that strong, original programming was the future for Netflix. And indeed it is – the company is investing like never before: "We spent $8 billion last year to create original content," Andy Law, director of product design, told The Economic Times.
But, as the Seinfeld purchase indicates, Netflix hasn't given up on "comfort TV" either. While they're counting on new originals to mark them out as the network to come to for High-Quality New Stuff, the familiar, bingeable staples help keep a certain kind of viewer on the hook, paying their £5.99+ every month.
With Friends and The Office now at rival platforms, that leaves Netflix in a precarious place. Desperate, some might say, for a comparable property with 100+ familiar, entertaining half-hour episodes that you can watch in any order whenever you like. The Big Bang Theory will almost certainly join Friends on HBO Max, and How I Met Your Mother is split between Netflix in Canada, South America and parts of Europe and Hulu in the US. Frasier, likewise, is smeared across Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and CBS All Access. So what does that leave, exclusively, for Netflix?
Step forward Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.
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