May 7, 2021

Reboot renaissance: Examining the trend of rebooting content and the role they play in the streaming wars

Remember how we used to watch TV? Getting the whole family to sit around a 100lb, 32-inch set (which was considered a huge screen at the time) to catch the latest episode of whatever was on that night — because if you missed it, who knows if you’d ever see it again. And what about the TV Guide network?! All those hours spent waiting for the right channel to come around, only to miss it by losing attention for a split second. We still remember old programming blocks, like ABC’s TGIF with staples Boy Meets World and Full House, Saturday morning features like Saved by the Bell and even NBC’s Must See TV Thursdays with Seinfeld, Friends and ER.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and one that marketers are keenly aware of. In the constant battle for viewers’ attention, both linear and streaming networks have commonly leveraged nostalgia to drive tune-in. A trend we’ve noticed here at Diesel has been a dramatic increase in using reboots as a fast-track to drive viewership and subscriber growth, a tactic we were interested in exploring further. In this post, we take a look at the current reboot landscape and assess how valuable these shows can be to new and established networks.

Reboot landscape:

In this analysis, we’re defining a reboot as an original show that has been cancelled and then restarted at a later date. We have not included spinoffs, reunion specials or series adaptations of movies or books. So Peacock’s Punky Brewster and Hulu’s Veronica Mars are included here, while HBO Max’s Fresh Prince reunion is not. In total, we’ve identified 65 reboots since 2016, which make up the foundation of this post.

 

Analyzing the reboot landscape since 2016, we noticed a jump in 2018, but roughly consistent numbers since then. What’s interesting is that there are currently 30 confirmed reboots set to premiere in the future, which is just five fewer than the total number of reboots since 2016. In fact, we’re already 86% of the way to 2020’s number of reboots only five months into the year, meaning that 2021 will likely continue the upward trend. The majority of upcoming reboots (60%) are destined for streaming services.

 

Sitcoms are the most rebooted genre, and the average time between an original series finale and the reboot premiere is just over 20 years. This is interesting when interpreted through a nostalgia lens, as twenty years gives ample time for the “good ol’ days” effect to set in. For millennials, that range would have included their teenage years and early twenties, creating the opportunity to bring beloved characters from past times into today’s contexts. This is a particularly valuable group to acquire, as they are brand loyal and tend to have disposable income with a higher potential lifetime value compared to older cohorts.

That’s not to say that reboots are sure-fire hits. For example, linear reboots like Murphy Brown, BH90210 and Party of Five were quickly cancelled. It’s also not uncommon for reboot announcements to be met by a virtual eye-roll from the online community. What’s more, few reboots have lasting power, as most only air for a season or two. Successful linear reboots, like Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver have recast their familiar characters, while successful streaming reboots tend to bank on nostalgia by bringing back original casts. This suggests that while there’s no recipe to ensure a successful reboot, shows that were originally geared towards younger audiences, like Saved by the Bell, could be more successful by reuniting the same cast in a reboot, while shows aimed at older audiences, like Queer Eye, may want to recast characters.

Examining strategies:

 

Our analysis shows that the majority of reboots are destined for streaming services. Newer streaming platforms like Peacock and Paramount+ have used reboots heavily in their launch marketing, and these announcements have been successful at gaining awareness for new services (more on that to follow). Notably absent from the networks with planned reboots are established players Netflix and Hulu. Though no stranger to this type of content (eg Fuller House), these platforms are able to take more risks because of their massive existing subscriber base, whereas newer platforms need to draw in audiences and offering something familiar is a safer way to accomplish that.

These shows seem to be effective acquisition tools for new streaming networks: 34% of Peacock’s audience to date has engaged with Saved by The Bell, the highest proportion of any Peacock original. The Psych special (not counted as a reboot in the rest of this analysis as it’s a one-off), holds the second highest proportion of Peacock engagers, with 22%. These beat out other Peacock originals like Brave New World and Connecting, each having 5% of the Peacock-engaged audience.

 

In the month leading up to the launch of Paramount+, five of the top ten most anticipated shows and movies were reboots, while the rest were extensions of already familiar content and franchises.

 

With so much content available, new streaming services need compelling reasons for a consumer to sign up. Betting on nostalgia by developing and marketing reboots could be an effective way to raise awareness of a new platform and generate excitement among fans. Given the recent rise of rebooted content, we looked at popular series that ended in the last two decades that could be revived in the coming years.

 

Takeaways:

Nostalgia sells… sometimes – We’ve seen new platforms focus heavily on reboot content in order to drive awareness and subscriptions. This strategy seems to pay off in some cases, like with Peacock’s Saved by the Bell, but historically, reboots have mixed success generating revitalized interest (eg Murphy Brown, and BH90210) 
Recast or reunite – If betting on the nostalgia factor, reuniting casts can make more of an impact, but if the goal is to repeat past successes, recasting could make sense. This can also depend on the content’s original target market; for example, iCarly, which was originally tailored toward younger audiences, is using the same cast, while The CW’s reboot of Dynasty, a show for older audiences, has the same characters (though with some re-imaginings) and a fresh cast. 
Analyzing risk vs. reward – As familiar content, reboots naturally have a built-in audience of sorts, while brand-new shows do not. Therefore, it is less risky for a new player to invest in this content. Though reboots may not reach the same popularity as fresh content (like Bridgerton), they could serve their purpose as a “foot in the door” for a new platform.