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Jerry Seinfeld Alludes to Netflix Agreement for ‘Seinfeld’

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‘Seinfeld’
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Elaine Benes with Jason Alexander as George Costanza in the Seinfeld TV epidode "The Wizard." Photographer: Joesph Delvalle/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

July 28 (Bloomberg) -- The Internet was all in a tizzy last week over a pressing issue of home entertainment. Will you soon be able to binge-watch “Seinfeld” episodes on Netflix?

To paraphrase an infamous line from the hit sitcom, the prospect of “Seinfeld” on demand is real and it’s spectacular, Bloomberg Businessweek reports today. On July 24, Jerry Seinfeld, the star of the eponymous sitcom, suggested as much during a live Q&A on Reddit.

“Jerry, any word on ‘Seinfeld’ coming to Netflix?” asked a fan. “There are so many people who still have not experienced ‘Seinfeld’ firsthand, and having it available through Netflix will surely be the easiest way.”

“You are a very smart and progressive person,” Seinfeld replied. “These conversations are presently taking place.‘‘

Since the sitcom’s disappointing finale first aired on NBC in 1998, ‘‘Seinfeld’’ has enjoyed a robust second (and third, and fourth) life in reruns across the broadcast and cable TV landscape.

Along the way, the series, which was produced by a unit of Time Warner Inc. and is distributed by Sony Pictures Television, has racked up more than $3 billion worth of revenue from the series, making it one of the most valuable TV franchises in history. But despite ‘‘Seinfeld‘s’’ seeming ubiquity, all nine seasons of the show have never been available on demand for streaming viewers.

That could change in September.

Huge Fees

Chuck Larsen, the president of October Moon Television, an independent consulting firm that specializes in syndication rights, points out that ‘‘Seinfeld‘s’’ current syndication deals for both cable and broadcast TV stations expire this fall. The expiration of those agreements, he says, will likely put into play ‘‘Seinfeld’s’’ currently untapped subscription video on demand rights, or SVOD.

Cliff Edwards, a spokesman for Los Gatos, California-based Netflix, declined to comment. Tom Keaney, a spokesman for Jerry Seinfeld at Rubenstein Communications, didn’t immediately return a phone call requesting comment.

In the past, streaming subscription services such as Netflix Inc. might have balked at paying the huge syndication fees commanded by a top-shelf sitcom like ‘‘Seinfeld.’’ These days, with its number of subscribers topping 50 million, Netflix is spending lavishly on programming. An exclusive deal for ‘‘Seinfeld’’ would likely help Netflix in its ongoing effort to differentiate its services from those of its emerging rival Amazon.com. Inc.

‘‘Seinfeld’’ could be a big draw.

Time Warner

‘‘There are only a handful of what we tend to refer to as A-level sitcoms in our business,’’ Larsen says. ‘‘‘Seinfeld’ is certainly one of them. ‘Full House,’ ‘Happy Days,’ ‘I Love Lucy,’ ‘Two-and-a-Half Men,’ ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ -- there haven’t been that many.’’

‘‘There’s something about comedy,’’ he adds. ‘‘People will watch it over and over and over again. That’s why comedy is so profitable in syndication and distribution. It repeats well. You don’t do that with dramas. I saw ‘Schindler’s List’ once, and it was great. But I really don’t want to see it again.”

Acquiring the on-demand rights for “Seinfeld” probably won’t come cheap. Most sitcom rights get significantly less expensive the longer the series has been off the air, but “Seinfeld‘s’’ depreciation has been less dramatic than that of most shows. The series even managed to reverse the trend during its early years of syndication.

Hulu, Amazon

According to Broadcasting and Cable:

In 2010, New York-based Time Warner reported at an investors’ conference that ‘‘Seinfeld’’ made $598 million in its first broadcast cycle, $984 million in its second cycle and $703 million in the third. On top of that, cable paid $180 million for the show in its first cycle, $113 million in the second and $86 million in the third.

If Netflix does acquire the SVOD rights, Larsen says, the series will continue to air on broadcast and cable television. Even so, the streaming rights will likely be quite valuable.

Netflix could have some competition. Once upon a time, not long ago, Netflix was essentially unrivaled in the SVOD bidding arena, Larsen says. But these days, Netflix faces a new crop of competitors, particularly Amazon, but also Hulu LLC and Comcast Corp., that might have interest in landing ‘‘Seinfeld’’ on demand for their paying customers.

‘‘This would be the first time it would be on subscription,’’ Larsen says. ‘‘I’d look for a pretty good price tag on that.’’

And while it’s likely that ‘‘Seinfeld’’ fans will soon have access to all 180 episodes somewhere online sometime soon, no deal has been announced yet. In other words, serenity now.

To contact the reporter on this story: Felix Gillette in New York at fgillette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bradford Wieners at bwieners@bloomberg.net James Callan

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