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Legacy content: The past is the future

Matt Bowman has overseen the restoration of everything from Trainspotting to Thunderbirds. The commercial director of RRsat Europe gives his take on the bright future of legacy content.

Matt Bowman, (pictured), has overseen the restoration of everything from Trainspotting to Thunderbirds. The commercial director of RRsat Europe gives his take on the bright future of legacy content.

Wallace and Gromit first hit our screens in 1989, Prime Suspect in 1991 and Friends in 1994 – so why are these aged classics still frequenting our screens? The dramatic evolution of TV has created an entirely new experience for consumers whereby they are now able to choose what they want to watch whenever they like. Series are no longer singularly played out, rather repeated regularly over time and in some cases continuously throughout the day. With so much repeated content, the question that must be asked is why? Do we enjoy watching the same thing over and over? Or do production companies simply not generate enough content?

Modern platforms such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer and SkyGo allow consumers to watch series at any time and on any device. The shift even in recent months represents a dramatic watershed in a rapid shift in online viewing habits. Only a year ago smartphones and tablets accounted for 25% of viewing compared to 27% on PCs. The ability to reach multiple audiences is at an all-time high, and the choice they are offered is significantly greater than ever before.

Producing timeless content

With the astonishing evolution of multi-platform content, the question then must be asked as to why series that have already ‘had their day’ are being repeatedly played and watched. The answer, quite simply, is that good content stands the test of time. Wallace and Gromit for example digitised their archived episodes in 2009 for download on iTunes. Shows such as Wallace and Gromit have generated timeless content that not only appeals to their original audience, but also new and varied others. The award winning Prime Suspect, recently restored and digitised for ITV was watched by 4.9 million viewers on average per episode, Friends drew in 8.9 million viewers on itsepisode finale and is still generating high viewing figures to date.

Another very simple explanation for repurposing series is a production company’s ability to generate content at low cost/high profit. Series that have yet to be digitised and possibly restored offer a profitable option for broadcasters looking for proven quality content. Similarly, content with high production values retains the resolution for HD and in the future even 4K when it is revisited, allowing repeat programming to actually offer a new experience to the viewer without qualitative compromise. Truly successful television shows and films are syndicated throughout the world and invariably repeated due to their entertainment value.

Along with the monetary and ‘safe bet’ benefits that are fairly obvious for production companies, one must also consider more in depth the consumer demand for re-runs. ‘Re-consumption’ as it has been named is known as a somewhat cumulative behavioural trait demonstrated by many. Research has shown that by watching re-runs people gain insight into themselves and their own growth, the re-run being subconsciously used as a measuring stick for how their own lives have changed.

When is too much?

Although the benefits of repurposing series are seemingly endless, the downfalls of repeated series must also be considered. With any business, whatever line of work you’re in, money will always play a significant factor in any decision made. When re-purposing a series, steps must be completed to ensure it is of sufficient broadcast quality. Restoration and digitisation are two possible external costs that production companies may not have accounted for and cannot complete internally.

Similarly, production companies must seriously consider when is too much. New content is what drives a business and more importantly attracts new viewers. Repeated content, whilst appealing to new audiences, may make many veteran viewers switch off. Generating a balance between repeated and new content is vital for the survival of a broadcasting business that many may struggle to find.

The Telegraph recently reported that 63% of series on all BBC channels have previously been shown before. This is seemingly elevated number highlights just how much repurposed material is being broadcast on a day-to-day basis, a reflection of consumer demand. The Good Life was recently repeated on the BBC (originally aired from 1975-1978), which almost certainly ensured exposure to an entirely new audience and generated new revenue. So broadcasters should think twice before throwing away repeated series – consumers value familiarity and quality