The Nostalgia Wars: Netflix vs. Cable

In TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet Cynthia Littleton discusses the importance of residuals as, “sacrosanct for the creative community as Social Security and Medicare are for voters in election years. Residuals are fiercely protected by the creative community because they are such a large component of annual income for all but the most successful WGA, DGA, and SAG members” (68-69). A lot of the residuals received come through reruns. Reruns have been the economic savior to the cable industry. But today the industry is going through bigger changes. DVDs and online streaming have replaced VCRs and cable. Littleton explains that, “The volume of traditional network residuals paid to TV writers- the most lucrative rerun compensation- is dwindling because the networks simply are not airing as many reruns as they once did” (243). This is because viewers now have more channels to choose from, and can watch shows on their own time through online streaming, and paid downloads. Littleton explains, “As the number of digital distribution outlets for movie and TV content- from Hulu to Netflix to burgeoning mobile TV services- the volume of traditional network TV reruns is only going to decrease in the coming years” (244).

This past June actress Jaime King wrote an open letter protesting fair compensation for actors. She explained that the show she was on (Hart of Dixie) was one of the top watched shows on Hulu, yet Hulu said that wasn’t “quantifiable” so they didn’t get paid. She went on to say,

“Before streaming, actors, writers, producers & directors were paid residuals for every episode watched. Which is how those in our industry would live in between work. And people rarely watch live TV- or buy TV’s- they stream, so actors etc. do NOT receive any money for episodes watched in this format.”

Cable viewership is slowly dwindling to nothing, which creates a big problem for those seeking residuals.

Enter the 90s.

Oh the ‘90s. Snap bracelets, Lip Smackers, Ferbies. I could go on and on. Things were much simpler then weren’t they? I am not the only one who misses the 90’s. A lot of 90s trends have made a comeback. The berry lips, Doc Martens and of course, the choker necklaces. We miss the 90s! So it’s no surprise that this nostalgia is being capitalized on by both television channels and online streamers. It seems as we are in the grip of a reboot mania showdown. Disney has brought back the famous Boy Meets World, with their original Girl Meets World, featuring a lot of the famous characters from the original. NBC brought back the early. Fox announced that they would be releasing a continuation of the television series The X-Files. Netflix is rebooting famous titles such as Full House, Inspector Gadget, and The Magic School Bus. 

So is producing remakes a sign of creative exhaustion or is it a new way of monetizing content? Is it a coincidence that most of the relaunches are shows from the 90s and 00s? No. That’s because networks are trying to bring in younger audiences by capitalizing on nostalgia. Relaunching familiar titles offers advantages in brand awareness. We already know and love most of these shows, so, of course we are going to check them out when they are released. Networks are capitalizing on our collective nostalgia by putting out more of what we already like. This makes it easier for the marketing team’s advertising budget. There is a clear business rationale for all the remakes and reunions. A new season means that people will want to rewatch all the old ones. Networks will air reruns of the old remakes, a marathon of old episodes filling time slots and bringing in viewers. Hello residuals!

But still more viewers are turning to online streaming to watch content. New Nielsen data suggests viewership is way down. Traditional television viewing has fallen by more than 12 percent year-over-year. So what does it mean for those remakes and reunion shows that Netflix is heavily promoting like Fuller House and Friends? It seems like they will be more successful than the network showings. And on top of that networks are going to lose viewers who used to watch the reruns of Full House and Friends on their channels (two of the biggest rerun shows). The network reboots are a valiant effort to compete against the Internet for viewership.

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