Older Content Is Streaming Gold

During this month’s virtual CES, Nielsen released its top 10 lists of titles streamed in 2020 in terms of minutes viewed. By far, the acquired titles streaming list was dominated by series that began more than a decade ago, led not unexpectedly by “The Office,” which premiered in 2005. Other 2005 debutantes included “Grey’s Anatomy” at No. 2, “Criminal Minds” at No. 3 and “Supernatural” at No. 6. The only title among the top 5 that premiered in the last decade was “Schitt’s Creek” (2015 premiere) at No. 5. Meanwhile, 2003’s “NCIS” came in at No. 4. Notably, all of the top 10 were streaming on Netflix in 2020.

Granted, these long-running shows have a lot of episodes to rack up minutes viewed, but that alone doesn’t explain why my teenager is suddenly watching “Criminal Minds” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” which debuted when she was still sitting in a highchair.

No wonder NBCUniversal outbid Netflix, paying millions to claw back exclusive streaming rights to “The Office” for its Peacock service. Ditto for WarnerMedia and its streaming buyout of “Friends” for HBO Max.

Just how much this older content has contributed to the growth of Netflix is hard to say. But at an AFM presentation, VOD Clickstream’s Stephen Fellows noted “how massively important Disney was to Netflix,” that perhaps Disney had underestimated its VOD rights and that Disney’s content had built their rival streaming service’s platform.

During virtual CES 2021, Pluto TV’s Scott Reich said classic CBS content from parent company ViacomCBS is allowing the AVOD service’s consumers to revisit such classics as “Three’s Company,” “Love Boat” and “Happy Days.”

“What’s old is new again,” he said.

It’s also more valuable.

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I’ve often wondered if content is truly king as upstart streaming services have come to dominate the landscape and have impressed Wall Street with their “new” model. Is it really new or just another way to deliver good content?

In many of the presentations in which I’ve sat (or viewed remotely), as well as my own experience, it seems that content successful in the old era of theatrical releases and broadcast television has actually been crucial to the new streaming era.

Over the years, as I’ve watched studio executives crow about the lucrative deals they made with streaming services, I have often wondered if they weren’t selling the studio and the content short. Were these streaming services getting a steal?

The evidence is piling up that indeed they were.

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