When “Community” was canceled at the end of last season, it seemed a relatively forgone conclusion that the cult favorite series would be able to find a new home somewhere, thanks to hungry cable networks and digital platforms.
The fact that it was ultimately Yahoo which stepped up to the plate was unexpected, as the site you used for your webmail in the year 1998 has failed to have much of an impact on the digital content space.
But yesterday, at a luncheon presented by the Hollywood Radio and Television Society (HRTS), Yahoo CMO and Head of Media Kathy Savitt laid out why it made sense for Yahoo to bring back the show. “I look at a show like ‘Community,’ which had this passionate fan base of two to three million — give or take a million — that is just so wickedly excited about the rich, deep stories it’s telling.” she told moderator Ben Grossman. “It’s an incredibly well-written show that became a victim, on some level, of its time slot and any sort of support that it could or could not get from a business-priority standpoint.”
And for Savitt, the opportunity to bring what she referred to as Yahoo’s “800 million-plus” monthly visitors to the series isn’t just an opportunity for Yahoo, but an opportunity for NBC and other networks which do the initial investment in creating shows like “Community.”
“We think of ourselves as a mobile company, whether that’s a phone or a laptop, and we’re able to let you watch a show on your schedule and create moments of discovery and serendipity that we think on some level can be accretive to creatives, as opposed to limiting,” she said.
“Our hope is that we can work with traditional linear networks and say, ‘Hey, one plus one really can equal three.’ We’re not just here as another buyer — we’re here to enable you, not disrupt you. You can take a show that you’ve nurtured and give it another zero at the end of its audience. We can help you find an audience beyond the confines of that schedule, which is enticing for a great writer and a great show.”
It’s a sentiment that matches with a lot of previous talk — Netflix also sees itself as a partner, not a competitor, to broadcast and cable networks. But fellow panelist Gail Berman, Chairman and CEO of The Jackal Group, expressed some skepticism in response to Savitt’s declaration.
“It’s an incredibly good time for content creators, producers, writers, directors, etcetera. The problem is how to monetize all of that content,” she said. “When you’re talking about audiences, in some cases, that are so niche for some content, it makes it difficult to pay for.”
“In the case of ‘Community’ on NBC, [a show] that NBC spent an enormous amount of money creating and promoting, the investment was tremendous. So Yahoo can come in and make a decision based on its audience and users to determine whether that show would service them, and at two million or three million or four million.”
“That content has to be monetized, and therein lies the rub. As in NBC’s model, that content could not be monetized in a way [that worked for] their business model,” Berman added. “But what we see is that Yahoo gets to be in front of the class with ‘Community,’ because of the money and the efforts put out by NBC in the first place.”
To Berman, monetization is a massive problem — something she referenced with a mention of “Arrested Development,” a show developed and produced during her time as president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting. (It was canceled shortly after she left the company.)
“It’s great to be able talk about the second lives of these things,” she said. “The question going forward is ultimately what kind of content will Yahoo be able to afford in its business model, and what kind of creatives can we find who can develop content appropriately for Yahoo and all of the other places where content can be available.”
Because for Berman — for everyone on that panel, from FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, who found ratings gold in reairing a 25-year-old cartoon, to Kevin Beggs of Lionsgate Television Group, which is the production company behind the massive Netflix success “Orange is the New Black” — monetization might be the problem, but the actual television being produced is the solution.
“For me, at this moment, I just see content as the way forward,” Berman said. “Generally speaking in our business, it’s always been the way of moving forward.”
“Community,” when it returns for the sixth season prophesied by the ancients (and hashtag campaigns), will have an opportunity to prove that for Yahoo.
No pressure, though.