Community and Yahoo Enter the Age of Internet Revival

Class is in session on Yahoo today. We look at what Community's return means for the current state of internet television.

Community is finally home today. The show starts its exclusive run on Yahoo Screen, and is firmly in the loving arms of the internet, the only place where it has really ever been accepted. Believers in hashtag activism, rejoice. You’ve made this happen.

That #SixSeasonsAndAMovie was a springboard to Yahoo Screen picking up Community for a 13-episode online-only sixth season is less of a prayer answered and more of a rip tide of changing currents in the entertainment industry. We are now leaving the golden age of television and entering the age of the revival. Nothing is too sacred. The shows that died from the sins of their non-viewers can seek redemption. There is an afterlife. Someone just has to grant it. 

Publicity pays and it will pay well for Yahoo, which in theory was outlier in the current crop of streaming services. Now Yahoo has its own Arrested Development, and that’s was a win even before Dan Harmon stepped on set to fulfill the show’s hashtag destiny.

Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu will go down in history as the forefathers of the movement to original online content, but other media companies are willing to play catch-up.

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PlayStation Network just released Powers while Microsoft had a plan for original content but cancelled it. HBO is finally breaking away from the traditional model by offering an standalone streaming serviceCBS is also preparing to produce original content for streaming services and the list goes on and on. Still, I was thrown for a loop when Yahoo—a search engine turned email service turned internet news and entertainment destination and place where I play fantasy baseball—heavily invested in what is fated to become the future of the television medium. In reality, it is starting to feel as though these companies are throwing around their burnable stashes of Monopoly money on original content because, well, they can.

Netflix roughly spends around 10 percent of its yearly content acquisition budget on original programming. That’s in the neighborhood of $400 million if the company is spending a reported $3-4 billion on content in 2014. We still don’t and may never know the payoff. Netflix won’t release viewership numbers, but based on the rate the company is churning out new shows, the big wigs at Netflix seem to have justification for bankrolling an expanded original library. The fact that we’re talking about Netflix’s originals, applauding them for their Emmy-worthy performances and dishing on what we’ll see on our queues lists in the future is a win for Netflix and to an extent, the Internet television movement. It’s certainly more than we can say for Hulu or Amazon, and for now, Sony and Microsoft.

As much as Community is a home run free agent pickup from a publicity standpoint, these new “networks” are winning by are putting control back in the hands of the viewers. They have the time and flexibility to listen to their audience in a way that traditional TV networks—with inconveniences like advertising revenue, timeslots and ratings to worry about—cannot. If film is a director’s medium and television is a writer’s medium, then Internet streaming is now the viewer’s medium.

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Netflix is in command of the market because they pushed big names with House of Cards, found the perfect match with Jenji Kohan and Orange is the New Black and gave the internet what it wanted, the return of Arrested Development. The acquisition of the latter was Netflix’s grand marketing coup, and ultimately the value of what reviving a misfit cult classic meant to Netflix’s desired demographic, Joe and Jill Internet User, outweighed the gratification of the lopsided, but at times brilliant, long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development. Fincher’s House or Kohan’s Women’s Prison could have been picked up by HBO or Showtime, respectively, and no one would have batted an eye. The story of a wealthy family that lost everything didn’t work on network television. Maybe there was a time when it would have worked on premium cable, but that too had passed. The marriage of Arrested Development, as a revival, and Netflix, as a medium, opened the door for those who had loved and lost. It wasn’t that it was just OK to love again, but it had to feel right.

Timing, according to the woman in charge of Netflix’s content, is everything. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cindy Holland was asked about what other revivals were on the wish list. Turns out they’re on a pay as you go plan:  

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“Revival projects aren’t an important part of our original series strategy. It’s an opportunistic thing. With Arrested Development, Ted [Sarandos] (Netflix’s Chief Content Officer) was a big fan and knew that there had been a movie project in the works for a long time, so he campaigned very hard to bring that revival to Netflix. We have the data on what might be attractive to us from a viewership standpoint, and there may be occasions when we go seek something out, but it’s pretty opportunistic and not particularly planned.” 

Harmon’s college comedy is leaving NBC for what seems to be safer ground. More importantly, Community gets to feel wanted. To NBC, it was barely just good enough to stick around. For Yahoo, it’s a centerpiece. During its network run, the show’s lackluster ratings were justification for cancellation. Moving to Yahoo isn’t going to magically boost the ratings ten fold. Even if Yahoo found a way to stream the previous seasons, you can’t always rely on Arrested Development-like returns from a video-on-demand audience. 

Yahoo’s decision was still an easy one. Maybe you don’t watch Community. Clearly, many don’t. But you’ve probably heard about it. It’s always in the news. Yahoo gets built-in name credibility from an established cast and a show with a wild production history made for a television script. By following Netflix’s lead, Yahoo is betting on a safe horse now and saving the long shot for down the road.

Both services are still a step ahead of the curve. At FOX’s 2014 upfront, Kevin Reilly, now the former FOX Chairman of Entertainment, said 40 percent of the network’s younger audience comes from streaming or VOD. ABC shared a similar concern for the dwindling of live-programing numbers. While the major networks are improving their streaming offers through their websites and VOD services, it’s tough to ignore the ease at which Netflix has penetrated the market. 

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The enthusiasm for another season of Arrested Development was discussed in many corners of the internet for years. It only got louder when Netflix made the first three seasons available and a new generation binged-through the follies of the Bluths. 

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The wealthy So-Cal family was the ideal poster child for this new age in television. After the initial wave of excitement leading up to the release of season four last May, interest in another season was tepid at best. There was no #FiveSeasonsAndAMovie making its rounds on Twitter. That the season underwhelmed both critics and viewers is likely a factor. Even if the excitement is tempered, another chance for Arrested Development to get it right will serve the age of the revival well. As a huge AD fan, there were a handful of new episodes (Gob and Tobias x 2, Michael x 1, George Michael x 2, Lucille x 1) that were classic Mitch Hurwitz storytelling, just in a new format. A few episodes were so dry I could have used a laugh track to guide me.

Overall, it was a comeback that had to be done. At times it felt right and to me that certainly made it all worth it. Only recently has talk of a fifth season resurfaced in the news, with both Netflix and Will Arnett confirming that it’s more of a matter of when than if. A fifth season, with the cast able to shoot the entire season together, instead of in individual installments, will go far to silence critics and in the process show that the revival as a sort of sub-genre can be both useful to networks, and enjoyable for longtime fans.

[Related: Arrested Development Season Four Review]

Closing in on nearly two years from Netflix’s great Arrested Development experiment, we’re starting to see the returns. Other seldom-watched, cult-defined shows are slowly making their way back. Most recently, the AMC crime drama The Killing returned for a final season on Netflix and they plan to do a series adaptation of the cult comedy film, Wet Hot American Summer. Even HBO got into the trend with the Lisa Kudrow-led mockumentary, The Comeback. And of course, there’s Yahoo’s big splash, the curious case of Community.

This is the start of what could be a beautiful relationship between the viewer and the medium. If we can extend the lives of shows that deserve a second chance or are better suited for bulk viewing, it’s only going to bolster our options and that’s a great thing. So television’s golden age is over, but the days of television overload are here to stay. More doesn’t have to equal less.

In Arrested Development’s fourth season, Gob, the family’s oft-forgotten son and hack illusionist, attempts to rise from a tomb like Jesus after two weeks. Sure, Gob makes a mockery of his profession, but just getting to watch him go through another failed illusion felt like a real TV miracle – the medium’s second coming.

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