Seinfeld Won’t Be Streaming Anywhere for a While, and That’s Good for Netflix

Photo: NBC.

This story first ran in Buffering, Vulture’s newsletter about the streaming industry. Head to vulture.com/buffering and subscribe today!

It will not be the Summer of George.

As Vulture reported earlier today, Seinfeld — as long expected — is leaving Hulu this month. The legendary show about nothing will vanish from the Disney-owned streamer on June 23, nearly two years after Netflix paid handsomely to steal away global streaming rights. But in what will surely be sad news for stans of the series, Buffering has learned Seinfeld will not simply hop over to its new home the next day, or even the next week. In fact, industry insiders familiar with the situation tell us Jerry and Elaine and George and Kramer won’t land on Netflix until closer to the fall — September at the earliest — leaving Seinfeld digitally unhoused for a few months. So what’s the deal with the Seinfeld summertime interregnum?

Netflix isn’t talking just yet, so it’s hard to nail down the precise rationale for the delay. In theory, it’s possible the streamer’s deal with distributor Sony Pictures Television, announced in September 2019, doesn’t allow it to take possession of the series for a bit. What seems more likely, however, is that execs have purposely decided to put a bit of space between Seinfeld’s swan song on Hulu and its Netflix debut. If so, there are definite upsides to a pause.

For one, waiting awhile gives Netflix time to build an effective marketing campaign around the arrival of Seinfeld as a global streaming exclusive. When The Office left Netflix at the end of December, it immediately moved over to Peacock, which was in desperate need of a big, splashy title to drive sign-ups (or to at least get folks to check it out). But that also meant many of the stories about the show heading to Peacock had to share headline and story space with disgruntled — or at least annoyed — fans of The Office peeved they needed to pay for another streamer to see their show. That narrative was never going to play out with Seinfeld, since the number of Hulu subscribers who don’t also have Netflix is much smaller than Netflix subscribers who don’t get Peacock. Still, waiting ensures the story of Seinfeld streaming on Netflix is about only that.

What’s more, scarcity can often breed demand. (Just look at what happened when folks thought they might not be able to get gas for a week.) It sure seems logical Netflix might want to make folks miss Jerry and the gang just a smidge before bringing it back. But even if Netflix’s thought process doesn’t involve any of my amateur psychological analysis, it could well be that Netflix thinks it can make a bigger splash around Seinfeld in the fall, particularly given how the world is opening back up again and folks are doing stuff other than watching TV. It’s also possible Netflix’s programming schedulers (yes, they have those in streaming) believe some piece of original programming headed to the platform in the fall — perhaps a new stand-up special from Jerry? — might pair well with Seinfeld. 

To be clear, I have no idea what exactly went into Netflix’s decision to delay (though I’ve been sniffing around to find out). But whatever the reason, because of its size and strength, the streamer clearly can afford to wait until it is most beneficial to its programming needs. This is, after all, not just another library-series add for Netflix. Stephen Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times, who broke the story of Seinfeld’s defection two years ago, reported at the time Netflix was shelling out more than a half-billion for rights to the show. The company has also been working with Sony to upgrade the series to 4K, something which doesn’t come cheap. And given Netflix has lost Friends and The Office within the last 18 months, Seinfeld gives the service a chance to win back some die-hard sitcom fans who’ve had less reason of late to use the service. I’d be shocked if this was something Netflix simply slipped into its monthly What’s New on Netflix newsletter without making any fuss. Its recommendation algorithm and homepage are obviously hugely powerful marketing tools, but this is the kind of a show you make a fuss about.

Seinfeld Won’t Be Streaming Anywhere for a While