Network Sitcoms May Be a Thing of the Past

Television has changed a lot in recent years as streaming has completely shaken up how people [...]

Television has changed a lot in recent years as streaming has completely shaken up how people consume entertainment and now the changes may be prompting the demise of what was once a staple of broadcast network: the sitcom. According to a report from Deadline, the former "holy grail" of broadcast could become a thing of the past as it grows less viable in the age of streaming entertainment.

According to the report some studios, such as Sony TV and Lionsgate TV, are looking at not selling broadcast comedy series going forward with the current business model. The broadcast model as it has been for decades sees networks pay a negotiated per-episode license fee to the studios that produce shows. During the first four seasons, that fee is relatively low, lower than the cost of making the series with the studio covering the deficit. Once a show makes it past four seasons and the 100-episode mark, studios would then begin to pull profit with both broadcast revenue as well as syndication while networks would then begin to pay full cost of the show with Season 5.

However, things have changed significantly with streaming. With a few exceptions (think The Big Bang Theory) that set up isn't really working the way it once did. Not only are many series not making it to fifth seasons -- ABC's The Goldbergs spinoff Schooled, for example, was canceled earlier this year after just two seasons -- but as streaming grows in both popularity and profitability, networks have been demanding not just the linear rights to series as part of their fees but so-called stacking rights that allow them to stream in-season episodes on their own platforms. That in turn diminishes SVOD sale prospects for studios. On top of that, hourlong dramas tend to do better financially, with the report noting that they do well on the international market and tend to turn profit sooner, usually three seasons in.

It certainly sounds like things have to change in terms of the financial model for comedy series to find some balance between networks and studios, and the report suggests that networks may want to look to cable and even streaming for cues. Cable networks pay a higher license fee for half-hour comedies that reduce the risk for studios and Netflix pays studios "cost plus" and takes global rights, offering studios profits right out of the gate.

That doesn't mean network sitcoms are entirely dead, though. The report noted independent studios are continuing to look for solutions and interest in comedy does continue. There are half-hour series being pitched as well as in development and there are some big potential series out there as well. A Who's the Boss revival recently made headlines, though it's not clear exactly where that series will land -- on network or on streaming.

What do you think? Are network sitcoms dead? Does the broadcast business model need to change in the age of streaming?