While media giants Netflix, Disney and even Amazon throw small fortunes at creating buzzworthy original content, it’s a decade-old show about lawyers that originally ran on the USA Network that’s the talk of the streaming world. The complete dominance of Suits may not just be an aberration – with an increasingly fragmented universe of content and the Hollywood writer and actors’ strikes halting the flow of new programming – but may portend a new norm.
Suits, which streams on Peacock and Netflix, was the most-watched program in July, according to Nielsen. With 10 billion viewing minutes, Suits also broke the record for viewership by an acquired title, according to the report. Nielsen on Thursday reported that it remained the top-rated streaming program for the seventh week in a row.
In a month that featured new episodes of Netflix’s The Witcher, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on Prime Video and Hulu’s The Bear, it’s essentially a rerun of a show that was solid, but not a massive hit in the first place that stood out by a wide margin.
Suits’ success is indicative of how older shows are finding new audiences through the rise in streaming, specifically with the proliferation of free ad-supported streaming services like Pluto TV or Tubi. It’s not a new trend, but one that continues to grow, with 60% of time spent streaming in May dedicated to older shows, up 5.2% from October, according to a Nielsen Gracenote study from Monday. These older shows could continue to see new legs as the Hollywood strikes cut off the supply of new programming for the foreseeable future.
It makes sense that viewers would want to revisit programming that was first widely broadcast on cable or network television, back when the number of new shows were relatively manageable. In an era where dozens of shows premiere every few days and on countless services and channels, there’s a comforting reassurance that comes with tuning into something that brought a smile to your face years ago.
Nielsen noted classic TV titles like Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore Girls beat out Stranger Things among U.S. women aged 18-34 watching streaming shows in 2022.
That’s a dynamic that will likely further cement as Hollywood studios and the writers and actors continue to be far apart on contract negotiations. The leaders of the big studios, along with the president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, last week sat down with the Writers Guild of America leaders in a session that seemingly went nowhere.
While AMPTP released details on the counteroffer made to the writers, the union later called it inadequate since it doesn’t fully address the issue of pay, benefits and regulation of artificial intelligence.
So the strike, nearing 120 days long, continues.
“It increasingly looks like Hollywood will not be back in business until the beginning of 2024, at the earliest, an unthinkable outcome when the WGA went on strike in May,” Lightshed Partners analysts Richard Greenfield, Brandon Ross and Mark Kelley said in a note on Wednesday.
Further complicating things is the separate strike with the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, which the studios have to tackle in a completely separate set of negotiations.
Both strikes have halted production of most US film and television projects, which is why you’ll have to wait longer for shows like the next season of Stranger Things.
The streaming services with the biggest catalog of older content will be at an advantage, said Eric Schmitt, an analyst at Gartner.
“As the pipeline of new content starts to shrink, viewers are going to use the back catalog,” he said. In addition, it plays to the favor of YouTube and TikTok, which still has a flood of new user-generated content.
The other dynamic is a shift away from watching scripted shows and movies – something we were all doing in excess during the pandemic. The last few years has seen people gravitate towards experiences and, well, the things you can do going outside. That translates to the difference in what we’re shifting towards in terms of the types of content.
“We’re seeing that consumers are moving towards live sports, live events, and news,” said Ray Wang, an analyst at Constellation Research. “The long-term impacts are a drop in subscribers as competition for time and attention shifts from viewing to engagement and experiences.”