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Netflix acquires the global streaming rights to 'Seinfeld' (latimes.com)
115 points by coloneltcb 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments

It's strange that we accept a copyright system that allows a show like Seinfeld to remain outside the public domain over twenty years after it ended.

Intellectual property exists to encourage science and the useful arts. It doesn't exist to extract every last penny of value out of a show for its owners.

In a world where copyright existed for twenty years, rather than 95-120 years, Seinfeld still would have been made. No one is green-lighting a television show with the expectation of huge distribution agreements decades later.

I'm not generally one to bash corporations, but US copyright law is among the clearest examples of corporations writing our laws to the detriment of consumers.

The insane amount of time that copyright persists is almost surely due to Disney. Every time their copyright is about to expire, congress extends the duration. You can be pretty sure that the copyright duration will always be today’s date minus the date Disney first copyrighted something.

I love linking this old Slashdot comment[0], as it's still a fair approximation:

> In the USA Copyright lengths are very simple. Anything older than Mickey Mouse is public domain and everything else is still copyrighted.

[0] https://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1306857&cid=2873632...

I went to a few links and they were ridiculous untrue articles. We need a bullshit meter for articles that purport to be legitimate. None of the three I clicked were.

Disney with Fox (who will only have contributed 15% of their percentage or 4% overall) have a 40% box office revenue percent this year. That is absolutely insane. I’m not sure when the last a company had that much of the box office. But it hasn’t been done for a while.

Lion King grossed $1.6B. $1B outside the US and $500M+ in the US/CA. Yet one of the articles was trying to use the movie as an example of Disney’s decline? I can’t come up with words to describe how silly that is.

I personally do not like Disney controlling the media market so much and do not like most of what they put out. But I’m not going to straight up lie and say their dominance isn’t there.

"Fatigue" is just a genre of article that is easy to write and gets clicks while whatever they're complaining about breaks a new box office record.

I hate supporting Disney with annual trips to Disney World because of shit like this, but it means a lot to my family :(

I've been to Disney World exactly once and I plan to keep it that way.

Not because it was bad per-se, it was an experience but I don't need to repeat that experience.

With so many great and interesting places to visit in the world, why would you want to go over and over to a tacky manufactured landscape like that?

I guess tacky is subjective. It's largely fun because my family loves it so much and makes it fun. I love the attention to detail, the rides are fun, the food is good, the resorts are nice. It's all stress free and easy and everything goes right and there's very little planning needed. Meeting the cast members is silly and fun. Having a meal plan and everyone just getting to stuff their face is great.

The downside of course is that it's all tremendously expensive. But more than anything I view it as quality time with family in a way that I generally otherwise never get to have (they live across the country). It's more about family time and doing what they love more than it is about anything Disney

Also it helps I've traveled a lot to most everywhere I've ever had interest in traveling to. I'm not really sacrificing trips somewhere else in favor of Disney

I didn't even know Disney did a meal plan... Not sure that makes it any more tempting to go back, however. :-)

I would offer a different perspective. For shows like Seinfeld, sure, you might be right. But think of copyright in the context, not of the top of the food chain, but for, say, a mid-level author. Not Stephen King - but someone who makes their living by writing books.

A sometimes big part of their total compensation is the royalties their works generate, sometimes many years into the future. Authors will often have an entire back catalogue of books that are still out there generating money, which is what always them to continue working on writing new books.

Or take for example the indie game developer that was featured in HN posts for a few weeks. He lays out the calculations for how much money his games make, and a significant part of it is a calculation of how much the game will make over its lifetime - not in the first two years, but over many years. And this includes e.g. spinoffs.

Now, I'm not saying 95-120 years is the "correct" duration - I'd probably say less, as well. But it's not obvious at all to me that 20 years is enough time - it's probably not.

I would also say TV has a significantly different timeline to books and games.

Different mediums can expect vastly different audience retention. Outside of the biggest hits, most TV won't be attracting attention 10-15 years down the line, but books are probably more in the 20-30yr dropoff.

Copyright lifetimes simply don't reflect the profitable lifetimes of most products.

> No one is green-lighting a television show with the expectation of huge distribution agreements decades later.

Really that seems like such a strange viewpoint. All of these shows that Netflix is creating right now, they are definitely value adds that will carry them forward well into the future. If it wasn't for the huge success of old shows, Netflix wouldn't have gotten into this game.

It’s a question of time value of money. Use say a 5% annual discount and 20 years out you’re down to 36%.

Today a few shows are valuable decades after they aired, but as a percentage of value at creation it’s a drop in the bucket. Even in Seinfeld’s case the show was already into the multi billion dollar category. It’s revenue today adds the equivalent of less than 1% of it’s total.

Every percentage counts. All of that is revenue applied to the company. Multiply it by 15 shows, you have residual income in the billions per year. That may be money to sneeze at, but at the end of the day, a billion dollars or not may be the difference between having the funding to launch 10 more shows or not.

There are not 15 shows with that kind of residuals 20+ years our.

Which show created by Netflix will we still be watching in 2039?

You're asking us to play fortune teller, but I suspect you're trying to imply that Netflix hasn't done anything of sufficient quality to warrant rewatching?

I'd say they've made some stuff that has a shot of being rewatched: Master of None, Love, Russian Doll, and I'm sure more. And then there's their additions to already popular things like their installments of Wet Hot American Summer, Dark Crystal, Black Mirror etc.

Netflix is making some decent content. Lots of not so great stuff, but some good in there too. Just like TV.

Are you saying Netflix hasn’t made quality shows that will last through 2039? I’d like to know which company you think has made close to the amount of quality shows Netflix has since 2014. Here’s part of a list I have for a content project. No company comes close to this output in recent history.

House of Cards launched February 2013 (7 seasons, finished)

Orange is the New Black launched July 2013 (7 seasons, finished)

Stranger Things launched July 2016 (3 seasons, 1-2 more)

Dark (2 seasons, 3rd is last)

Glitch (2 seasons, 3rd might never come)

Russian Doll (1 season)

Haunting of Hill House (1 season, anthology)

American Vandal (2 seasons)

Black Mirror (anthology, last season not that good)

The Crown (3 seasons)

When They See Us (mini-series, 2019)

Unbelievable (just came out)

Glow (3 seasons)

Kimmy Schmidt (4 seasons, finished)

Arrested Development (they tried, hard to get it all back together after years of being done)

Sex Education (1 season)

Bojack Horseman (5 seasons?) #animated

Mindhunter (2 seasons)

The OA (2 seasons)

Maniac (mini-series)

Wet Hot American Summer (2 seasons, but season 1 is the top notch one)

F is for Family (3? seasons) #animated

Big Mouth (2? seasons) #animated

Documentary mini-series


Making a Murderer

Evil Genius

The Jinx

Wild Wild West


There’s more I’m missing and I didn’t include a number of shows Netflix helps finance but isn’t the main financier or producer or original place of distribution. Shows like Glitch.

Broadly agree BUT there are still advantages to copyrights on works that are still commercially viable. Seinfeld was made on film. Without copyright, someone would have to be incentivized to acquire the original reels and pay to digitally scan all 180 episodes of film, knowing that the resulting scans would also be in the public domain and thus very difficult to recoup their investment on.

So in an alternative reality where Seinfeld's copyright expired, its possible that SD TV captures of all the episodes would be free and publicly available (great!), but an HD conversion would never be made (not great).

Would a new HD version have a new copyright date?

Not normally. Film restoration isn't currently considered innovative enough for the output to be cobsidered a new work.

However if you create new credits, titles, interstituals, etc. then it generally does qualify as a new work.

No one is green-lighting a television show with the expectation of huge distribution agreements decades later.

This has actually been the state of tv licensing economics for decades, since I Love Lucy popularized reruns. That show has never been off the air since it first aired. Other long-running shows longer-lived than the proposed-20 year term include anytime soaps still on the air today, The Simpsons, Law & Order or its spinoffs, CSI, NCIS.

Indeed, potential longevity is one of the metrics by which shows are scored when determining whether to buy or renew them. Firefly, for example, had no potential for distribution when it came out and was unceremoniously cancelled at the turn of the century, but today would have likely lived many seasons on Amazon or Netflix.

Basically, a long-running franchise like Seinfeld is the TV equivalent of a FAANG-era tech unicorn. It's what every showrunner secretly hopes for.

Disney movies are as old now as the stories that they're directly lifted from were when the movies were made. The brothers Grimm have never seen a penny from the movies, yet we're still paying for Snow White.

20 years is not unreasonable. The creator is likely still alive. Why shouldn't they get paid? Why should they see their creations get tarnished by spin offs they had no control over?

Reasonable depends on how much you view copyright laws to be a burden versus being something that encourages creation. There's no end to the list of reasons why copyright laws are shitty and really serve no purpose to anyone other than the extremely wealthy. I find it very reasonable to say that 80% of that shitty purpose is accomplished in the first 20 years.

I personally have no moral issue with pirating because I believe anything put out for public consumption is just that - in the hands of the public. I think copyright law is about as dumb as me saying something in public and then charging people to quote me. Even with zero copyright law we'd still see a tremendous about of money and investment into media. Even with piracy we rarely see movies of a watchable definition on torrent sites while still in theathers, people (including me) would still pay for music streaming, ad-free Youtube, and so on. There's still plenty of money to be made without ridiculous lawsuits and bullying and harassment and exploitation.

On the other hand, why should the next generation of artists be prevented from building on works that have been iconic parts of culture since before they were born, just like artists always have in the past?

Perhaps spinoffs should be the domain of trademark law and not copyright law.

Thank Mickey for that.

As a company that both owns a bunch of copyrights and has to pay fees, I wonder what Netflix's opinion would be on copyright law?

I'm curious how you define useful arts?

I find it strange the competition around Seinfeld was this intense actually. Certainly in its day it was the 900 pound gorilla of sitcoms, but modernly? The sitcoms that seem to be doing well are either feel good stuff like Parks and Rec or Friends, or stuff that took Seinfeld as a jumping off point into the cesspool like Always Sunny. In 2019 Seinfeld seems like it's not hard enough to run with the modern cynic comedies, while still too dark to be classified as a positive show.

Also most of the episodes seem very much of their era, and it's been 20+ years. Will episodes that relied on their extreme relatability still work when the target audience has never actually experienced that situation? In Chinese Restaurant when George is desperate to get access to a pay phone - how does that play with Gen Z?

Many people use Friends and Seinfeld as background noise while cooking and doing other misc stuff around the house. At least this is my experience fro observing 5-10 of my friends that have Netflix. Mind you they're all 26-28, so it's not like they watch this because they're 33-35 and like it because they grew up with it.

Here here. Those two, Office, Parks & Rec are on rotation.

It's possible I am looking at it rather nostalgically but it was one of the last shows before the world wide web took off that everyone would gather together to watch or talk about the next day. Add to that an entire generation of people in their 30s and 40s who all have Netflix and can't ever seem to find anything to play on it as well as those who were in their 20s through 40s when the show were airing having far more disposable time and income and you have the perfect show for Netflix IMO.

I'd add....I think a large reason for this is the success of the show in syndication, which has added it to its longevity and ability to stay top of mind for people long before the streaming services came along.

I'm scratching my head here. I'm a huge IASIP fan and can't see how IASIP took Seinfeld as a jumping off point. IASIP is characterized by it's very dark humor, no laugh track and subtle plot developments when it seems like each episode is stand-alone. Seinfeld had a very obvious laugh track and it's humor was significantly less dark. (I mean, Seinfeld is cynical... But let's be honest, there has never been a long running rape joke, jokes about homophobia, misogyny, pedophilia, alcoholism, drug abuse, stalking, incest etc) So it's really hard to see a connection. Could you maybe elaborate?

Seinfeld was famous for having the rule 'no hugging, no learning'. The main characters were mean, selfish, short-sighted jerks and they never learned their lesson or grew emotionally over the whole course of the show. That was unheard of at the time, as other shows either featured at least one likable character or had their characters evolve over time into better people. The point of Seinfeld was to watch these human cesspools behave horribly for 22 minutes and laugh at their misfortune. Always Sunny took those core principles, and turned them all to 11.

Jerry Seinfeld is a bit of a clean freak? Frank Reynolds strips naked, shaves his whole body, and slathers himself in hand sanitizer to keep the germs away:


The guys on the show are kind of disrespectful toward their romantic partners? Dennis is a monster:


George is kind of stupid? Charlie is straight up mentally challenged:


Elaine dances the funky chicken? Dee is an actual bird:


Seinfeld doesn't have a laugh track except to make smooth transitions over multiple takes edits with live audience laughter.

Also they did a parody of Seinfeld last season.

I really enjoy Seinfeld even though I never dealt with situations like the Chinese Restaurant. It is up there with my favourite shows of all time.

I've been re-watching clips of Seinfeld on YouTube recently. I realized that I didn't fully appreciate the genius of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld writing outlandish stories that had fulfilling payoffs at the end. That, plus the perfect casting of both the main and extra characters.

If you want more of that check out Curb Your Enthusiasm if you haven't already. Most episodes follow a similar formula, several interleaving stories that join up at the end of the episode in some outlandish way, usually at the expense of the main character (Larry David in Curb's case). It's one of my favorite TV comedies.

So many of the problems encountered by the characters would be non-issues if they all had cell phones.

I'm sure this isn't what you meant, but I thought about putting cell phones in the hands of the characters, and all I see is them sitting in a booth at a restaurant playing on their phones. So much of the was "about nothing" but it consisted of conversations. Take away the conversation, and the show doesn't exist.

Then you obviously haven't seen the Seinfeld reunion episode of Curbed... They do a Seinfeld episode within the episode. One of the story lines is George creates an iPhone app. It was the most I've laughed at a TV show in years.

Larry David + Jerry Seinfeld is the definition of comedic synergy.

Yes but how does that take away from the show?

Well here is your answer https://youtu.be/r5BxjUmzPPA

I'm a Seinfeld fan (thanks to Curb, in fact) and I think you underestimate the success and relevancy it still has today, like Friends (but without the cheap emotional stuff).

As a fun anecdotal data, uTorrent stats on my home computer shows that Seinfeld is way way more uploaded that anything else I have.

people will be wasting time in front of Seinfeld for centuries to come. It's so empty of actual content it's timeless.

I don't like Seinfeld (among my least favorite shows, along with Friends) but I wouldn't say it's empty of actual content. It's empty of plot; but it's a show about human interaction. Human interaction in the midst of awkwardness, love etc.

A show about nothing!

Lots of 30 and 40 somethings wish to relive their youth. Also Jerry Seinfeld needs a new Yacht.

I saw Seinfeld perform recently at the Beacon in NYC. He’s doing stand up basically because he’s bored and doesn’t have much else to do. It was quite clear money was not his motivating factor for being there.

He’s also doing that Coffee and Cars with Comedians thing and I’m certain that a name as big as Seinfeld isn’t getting screwed on his contract there.

Seinfeld is certainly among the wealthiest individuals but he doesn’t strike me as greedy.

Also, show was fantastic, truly a master of his craft. And the creators of the show Seinfeld deserve there rewards for such an outstanding contribution to our culture.

But copy write laws are borked and things should enter the public domain earlier.

He was greedy against his castmates back then though https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/pact-brings-peace-to-th...

Just going to note in here, everyone in this thread is saying no one cares in 2019 where Sienfeld streams. I’m 26, and I can tell you this show is one of the best ones ever made and I will be able to more easily peddle episodes that are brilliant to my friends and roommates.

23 years old, Seinfeld is my favorite sitcom by far and is in my top 5 favorite shows in general.

I have a Hulu ad-free subscription purely for watching it, which I will be cancelling as soon as Seinfeld moves over to Netflix.

'Friends' seem to have acquired a second life amongst Gen Z folk who never saw it on TV when it first aired, there's nothing stopping Seinfeld from having the same kind of comeback.

It'll be a big question of whether the plots still play well. I was watching Seinfeld the other day, and I'd forgotten how many of the plots revolve around someone missing a critical phone call, because they all had land lines.

Kids today won't understand those plots. :)

Do you genuinely believe that kids don't know what it's like to not be near a phone?

Kids are going to understand those plots just fine. You should spend some time reassessing your understanding of today's youth.

I was mostly be facetious, so no.

And in fact I'd say I'm pretty in tune with today's youth. I have lots of teenage family, as well as friend's kids to talk to about these things. I make it a point to ask them questions about how things are different today than when I was a teen, so I can have a better understand.

My first question is always, "How do you learn about new music?" As a teen, they way I learned about new music was from the radio: the DJs would tell us what the cool new songs were. But that curated experience is missing today. Spotify sort of gets there, but it's not really the same.

My second question is always, "How do you talk to your friends?". And surprisingly, the number one answer recently has been "In person". Today's teens are starting to have a backlash against social media and actually like to connect in person, which was refreshing to hear. But number two is usually Snapchat or similar "erase after consuming" media. "Facebook is for grandma" and Instagram is for "only the good stuff that I want everyone to see". Texting is often in the mix too, but they are very aware that texts cane be easily saved and monitored.

Although directly to your point, kids experience missed phone calls a bit differently. Mostly it's more like "I was camping this weekend with my family and they didn't have cell service!".

Kids today now have to grapple with their smartphone battery running out. U.S. infrastructure does not yet possess abundant public charging stations.

I (and many other people at my company) still have a phone at my desk. There are still phones in hotel rooms, and restaurants, and sundry other places. Most people may no longer have land-line phones at their houses, but the concept certainly still exists.

Sure but how many important calls are you expecting on the hotel phone? Or even the desk phone? The only thing I every used the desk phone at work for was outbound calls. If someone wanted to get a hold of me they called my cell, because they knew the chance of finding me at my desk was almost nil.

The desk phones at work were so useless they didn't even bother to hook them up for new employees unless you specifically asked for them.

Considering many have always had a mobile on them, yes.

You've never missed a call sent to your mobile phone?

They still teach Romeo and Juliet in schools, right? Couldn't their deaths have been prevented with a quick text message?

They could modernize the play by making the death the result of a typo in the text message. E.g. Juliet cried / died

"Oh, I am autocorrect's fool!"

Did you see the Baz Luhrmann take on R&J from the 90s? The missed message was represented by a FedEx "Sorry we missed you" note.

Only if their parents hadn't taken their phones away from either of them, and the SMS went through immediately without fail. It's rare, but the latter still happens to me sometimes even when the network appears to be working fine otherwise.

drinking poison brb

I am a little surprised consumers are not buying: Seinfeld, Parks & Rec, and Friends. They can be had on DVD or digitally for less than a year of a streaming service, and it would free you from worrying about when the show will leave your particular streaming service of choice.

I used to do that - I have a pile of old TV show DVD's. When I bought a new TV last year I never bothered to hook up the DVD player - if it's on the service I'll watch it, and if it's not, the need isn't there for me to watch it, there's so much other content available.

I think consumers got burned out rebuying content on the vhs -> dvd -> bluray -> 4k ultra hd transitions.

I think for your average person, nice DVD masters are still perfectly acceptable content

Until you try and watch them on a 4k screen. Somehow the same discs come out looking worse than they did on the 1080p I had just couple months ago. I blame the high refresh rate and questionable upscaling.

Anecdotally, I sense consumer preference has changed pretty heavily to streaming first, with the occasional renting or purchase of a movie or sports event via VOD. Another commenter posted about media format fatigue, and that's likely a contributor but there's also something to be said about frictionless consumption available on a single subscription.

I buy DVDs of TV shows then never watch them because all my TVs have Netflix and Sky but there’s just one DVD player.

And it's all the way over there.

While I know that sounds super lazy, it's just so much easier to not have to disc juggle and have Netflix deal with all that (admittedly minor) logistics junk.

My phone doesn't have a DVD player.

The article talks a lot about worldwide rights - does Sinefeld make sense to people not familiar with all the quirks of New York City? I love Monty Python but I’ve met plenty of people that just don’t get it - I imagine that Seinfeld would be the same.

I've only ever been to NYC (as a kid) once, and it still makes sense to me. Granted, I live in another major city (Chicago). I think the "quirks" you are referring to are probably more just general US/American quirks, more than anything that specific to NYC. Kind of like the humor in the US version of The Office vs the English (UK) version.

I'm not American, but grew up watching Sienfield / Frasier / Friends. Well, there are definitely times when I did not "get it", but repeated exposure to US culture via TV makes you sort of understand whenever certain issues come up i.e. correlating the various facts that crop up over different programs :)

edit : Sienfield is also one of my all time favourite shows

The show may be set in nyc but is about interpersonal relationships that can apply anywhere.

In my experience my non-american friends never really seemed to get Seinfeld or find it very appealing. Seems like the global part of this isn't that significant from that perspective

Tell them it's just "Hancock's Half Hour" but in New York.

Depends on what demographic your friends are. If they are predominantly English speaking from young, there's a higher chance they grew up on a lot of US TV.

Apparently this is getting a 4k treatment. I wonder if its just a lazy upscale or an actual remastering.

Seinfeld and Friends were actually remastered off the original 35mm film for HD conversion back in the day. Seems like going 4K isn't going to be much different, especially at the price they're paying.

And if I remember correctly, the big challenge wasn't the scaling up, it was the reframing - 4:3 vs 16:9. That challenge has been overcome for the most part in that HD remaster. (It's hard to reframe some scenes when they were deliberately spaced out in a certain way to reflect the frame that the director had to play with - it has the potential to fundamentally change the narrative intentions.)

A video that addresses some of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFIrsitJW5M

I didnt realize netflix lost the rights to the office - does anyone know when it is disappearing ?

The Office will leave Netflix in Jan. 2021

I wonder how much losing The Office made them go after Seinfeld.

Or how much of it was "Let's make sure the new NBCUniversal streaming service doesn't get this since we have a chance to stop them".

Seinfeld's distributor is Sony Pictures, so perhaps the closer to home competition would be from PlayStation Vue. Maybe a few more adults might buy PlayStations if they moved Seinfeld there.

I wonder if Peacock (what a stupid name) is going to stream the Cosby Show ????.

Great, now I have something else to watch after Cheers!

Very relevant for 2019. Next they should announce "All in the family"...

Seinfeld is on TV every single day of the year right now through syndication. I don't think you could find All in the Family on TV at all.

I think one is slightly more popular today than the other.

Speaking at least for my area (Detroit television market), a lot of local channels use their digital allotment to run a "Whatever I Can Syndicate For The Cheapest" channel at SD quality. It looks a lot like the UHF syndicated content when I was a kid. I wouldn't be surprised All in the Family shows up there, a lot of contemporaneous stuff does.

Not that you're wrong about Seinfeld being, oh, let me guess, somewhere between two to six orders of magnitude more popular, depending on how many dozens of people are watching the "Cheap Syndication" subchannel at any given time.

I love those digital sub channels! Recently I discovered a free-over-the-air version of game show network. It's awesome!

AntennaTV has been running All in the Family and Archie Bunkers Place.

>Seinfeld is on TV every single day of the year right now through syndication.

So the last thing to be enthused about as some kind of "exclusive" offer on your on-demand service?

One demand lets you watch the episodes you want on the schedule you want. Linear TV lets you watch they episode they choose to show you at the time they choose to show it, with commercials.

I mean sure, a bike and a Ferrari will both get you from one place to another, but saying they're equivalent is a bit of a stretch.

No, but a series is a more limited use resource than a vehicle.

Once you have been swarmed with Seinfeld for 3 decades it's pretty difficult for it to be a big deal that you now also have it "on demand".

I know you are being facetious, but 'All in the Family' is still extremely relevant. And honestly what a show. They tackled a LOT of serious issues. I think today's trump republicans should turn it on every once and a while.

Perhaps, though I'd rather have M.A.S.H!

Though my point was more in the vein, Seinfeld is hardly relevant for most people below 30, and there's so much good TV the last decade, it's hardly important for people over 30 as well...

All in the Family seems pretty relevant in these dark conservative times.

They should tie up all legacy shows that are owned by Viacom and Sony.

I recently subscribed & canceled Netflix as all I saw were a bunch of shows and movies I've never heard of.

They need to chill out with pushing all this unknown content their making in their UI/UX; show more familiar/legacy content with spattering of their biggest/most popular Netflix shows/movies.

I'm excited for Disney plus and will definitely subscribe. Marvel tv shows!!!

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