Last Friday, it was revealed that Seeso, the comedy-oriented streaming site owned by NBCUniversal, was issuing a series of layoffs. If that weren’t troubling enough, it was also revealed that the service had yet to accumulate an impressive number of subscribers, currently operating in the low six figures. Between this and the departure of Evan Shapiro, who headed the service, it’s reasonable to wonder if perhaps Seeso is on its way out and could be dropping its original programming sooner than later.
For comedy nerds in particular, the thought of a world without Seeso is a disheartening one. In the year and a half since it debuted, the service has given us several shows that have been challenging, experimental, and hilarious. Shows like Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ and HarmonQuest may not have found broad audiences, but pretty much everyone who has discovered them quickly became fans. Between that and the abundance of beloved classics like Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation, there’s a lot for a comedy obsessive to like about Seeso. With that in mind, one can’t help but wonder why the platform has struggled to find an audience.
There’s always the niche nature of comedy itself; perhaps casual comedy fans were always going to be reluctant to sign up for what is essentially Comedy Netflix. But I would argue there’s a more pertinent reason: NBC has simply done a poor job creating awareness of the service. I’ll be honest – in the time since Seeso started, I’ve seen very little promotion of it. Maybe the odd ad for one of its shows pops up on a website I’m reading, or a particular episode of @midnight features one or more guests promoting one of its shows, but I’ve rarely, if ever, seen ads for it on NBC, despite the fact that between SNL, The Tonight Show, and the NHL playoffs, I’ve been watching a fairly large amount of NBC and NBCSN. Even when I did see promotion for it, I’d mostly just see the phrase “Seeso” without much explanation of what it was. It rarely even came across that it was a streaming service specifically for comedy. Perhaps more people would’ve gotten on board if they’d simply been made aware of its existence.
But if lack of marketing kept some people from joining the site, a bigger problem is that those who did encountered endless problems with streaming quality. Seeso subscribers on Reddit have complained that the videos on the site are extremely choppy, and that the service ends up taking roughly a quarter of the CPU. Essentially, people running the app on low or medium quality servers struggle with the maddening modern problem of pausing a video indefinitely until it’s loaded all the way and are unlikely to get the full experience from Seeso. (One Redditor put it this way: “The comedy is destroyed when the audio and images can’t flow.”) Indeed, the longest-running cliche about comedy is that timing is everything, and when Seeso’s inefficient server spoils that timing, it can’t help but ruin the entire experience. If this sounds like a few idle gripes, consider that the Seeso app currently has a 2.2 rating out of 5 in the iTunes store. Clearly, this is a problem for a lot of people, and it’s hindering what could be a great service.
I would hate to see Seeso fall so early in its existence, because the idea here is actually pretty great. A streaming service catered specifically to comedy has endless possibilities. It could be a place where you can watch your favorite classic sitcoms and standup specials while also being turned onto new stuff. That’s the basic idea behind Seeso, but the thought of seeing it expand would be thrilling. They could add more classic NBC sitcoms, and perhaps even attain the rights to some classic standup specials. One of the new shows scheduled to appear on the service this summer is entitled There’s…Johnny!, a sitcom focused on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. I’m excited for this idea – mostly because of weird it sounds – but I also think that being able to watch some classic Carson episodes in their entirety would make the service worthwhile as well. While we’re at it, NBC famously owns the rights to all of Conan’s old characters and bits, so why not make some classic Conan clips available? All of that would be cool, but original programming is essential, too. Bring people in with the nostalgia, then hook them with the undeniable new material. That was basically how Netflix became a juggernaut of original programming, and Seeso could gain a lot from following that formula.
Seeso isn’t dead yet, but Friday’s report was certainly discouraging. It would be a shame to see such a great idea go down before it ever had a chance to really get off the ground. If there’s one thing NBC has earned some credit for, it’s sticking with shows that are beloved but didn’t necessarily have a wide audience. Shows like 30 Rock, The Office, Community, and Parks and Recreation never earned blockbuster ratings, but NBC was patient and allowed them to develop significant cult followings and last long enough to tell their entire story. NBC should show a similar degree of patience with Seeso. With a little time and some more proactive marketing, it has the chance to become something really special.