Change in technology isn’t surprising. Internet companies must evolve or die. Television is different. Not much change seems to take place there. We can choose a channel or stream a program. We can watch a new series or an old one. These are the menus. Speaking for myself, I’ve watched lots of reruns. I love Mash. And Lucille Ball’s struggle with the chocolate bon-bon conveyor belt still cracks me up. But, imperceptibly, reruns are on the decline.
Reruns used to be the lifeblood of a network. After 100 shows, the programs were syndicated and aired 5 days a week. With no productions costs, advertisers’ money was pure profit. Cable companies were big buyers of syndicated shows, too, though of late, they’ve developed a hankering to create original entertainment. House of Cards, The People vs. O. J. Simpson, and True Detectives proved to be big winners. In 2013, the number of reruns dropped from 159 to 128, and the downward trend continues. ( “The Death of Syndicated Reruns,” by Gerry Smith, Bloomberg Businessweek, October 24, 2016, pg. 68.)
Don’t expect Seinfeld to disappear from the small screen anytime soon, though. Cable networks are obligated to provide programming 24 hours a day. Producing original content to fill all those slots would be too costly. What’s more, the overseas market is growing. (Ibid pg. 71) Still, the trend is for fewer episodes in a series. Major actors don’t like a long-term contract. They want to keep their options open. That limits the amount of money to be earned from reruns.
The demand for fresh material is likely to grow. Eventually, reruns will lose steam or disappear altogether. Fortunately for fans of old-time shows, YouTube will provide. There, Lucy will continue to struggle with an endless conveyor belt, her mouth stuffed with chocolate.