Hulu on Wednesday announced that it was acquiring rights to air "Seinfeld" reruns at a cost ranging between $700,000 and $1 million according to various reports. The series had 180 episodes, so that would be the total pricetag between $125 million and $180 million. Even at the lowest end, it's a not a cheap deal.
Earlier in April, there was a big ruckus in the media about the death of reruns on television. Or, as many TV CEOs politely refer to it: "syndication." A lot of the buzz started after The Wall Street Journal published an article claiming reruns aren't good business anymore. This led to a lot of debate within the TV industry about the value—and cost—of reruns, ahem, syndicated programming.
The main argument in the pro-rerun camp is that reruns are DVR-proof. Even if they had lower ratings than new prime time shows, reruns are unique in that viewers generally don't go out of their way to record them. So anyone who's watching a rerun is almost certainly watching it live, leaving them unable to fast-forward past the commercials.
All of this goes a long way to explain why it wasn't such a bad deal when in 2010 TBS paid a reported $1.6 million per episode for reruns of The Big Bang Theory.
The majority of viewership for Big Bang this season—55 percent—came in the seven days after it first aired, according to Nielsen data provided to CNBC by Horizon Media, a privately held media services agency. But that same show in syndication was effectively never recorded—only 6 percent of the rating came in the seven days following. That means 94 percent of the nearly four million adults who watched the show saw it live, ads and all.
"Syndicated shows are less likely to be time-shifted because many of them run every day," said Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon, using an industry term for DVRing a show and watching it later.