Online Streaming Deal Could Mean All Homer Simpson, All The Time

After a fierce bidding war, FX spinoff cable network FXX won the rights to make all seasons of TV's longest-running scripted show, The Simpsons, available for online streaming. It may be the largest TV syndication deal ever. Anthony Breznican, a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, says the deal shows how networks are trying to capitalize on the "binge watching" trend. The deal gives FXX the right to air more than 500 episodes of The Simpsons, now in its 25th season on Fox.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Thanks for listening. It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

We've all been there. You start out with just one episode of a new TV show and before you know it things spiral out of control. I watched four seasons of "Breaking Bad" in less than two weeks. I know. I hated myself. And networks are trying to capitalize on our binge-watching habits.

Last week, after a fierce bidding war, the Fox spinoff channel, FXX, won the rights to make all seasons of "The Simpsons" available for online streaming. It might be the largest TV syndication deal ever. Anthony Breznican is a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, and he's been paying attention to the deal. Anthony, welcome to the show.

ANTHONY BREZNICAN: Happy to be here.

RATH: So "The Simpsons'" deal, this is going to allow people to binge-watch the show, and I know people are going to do that. But will "The Simpsons" streaming be commercial free?

: Well, that's probably not going to happen in the near future. They like to keep commercials as a part of their programming. If you want it commercial free, you're going to have to get DVDs.

RATH: That's so 2005.

: Yeah, exactly.

RATH: So mostly with binge-watching, we associate it with streaming services like Netflix or other online services that have been at the forefront. But now, networks are trying to get in on it. What do you make of that?

: They're really looking toward the future. Right now, there's a movement afoot called cutting the cord. I don't know if you've heard about that...

RATH: Yeah.

: ...where people look at their cable bills, like I did recently, and saw $130 going out the door every month for hundreds of channels that we don't watch. And if you could choose ala carte which channels you want, you could perhaps save a lot of money. And I think that's what Fox is looking at with "The Simpsons."

: Really, there are no fans of AMC. There are fans of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad." And so FXX, their streaming service, I think, is going to be very important over the next 10 years as we see how the consumer relationship with streaming services shakes out.

RATH: Well, and what's weird now is that they're making the shows, it feels like, with that in mind. Say, the "Arrested Development" season that was on Netflix...

: Mm-hmm. Exactly.

RATH: ...they sort of interconnected them in a way that - like watching them as a whole was part of the fun of it. Is that the direction that you think we're moving?

: I think it's going to change the way these shows are written, yes. It changes the amount of exposition you have to shoehorn into each episode. And I think you're going end up seeing a whole season of television that feels like one long movie.

RATH: Do you think that moving this incremental way towards paying for content directly that we might be moving towards the death of commercials?

: Well, the death of commercials, I think that's been predicted for a long time. And where we actually are seeing the death of commercials is in broadcast television and TiVo and DVR. When you watch it on Hulu, for instance, you can't skip those commercials. You only get one or two, but you've got to watch them.

RATH: I've tried.

: So, yeah. Actually, I think the streaming services are a very clever way of forcing commercials back on the consumer. And as long as the TV viewer has a tolerance for that, I don't think those are going away.

RATH: Is that where these are going? Because, you know, these shows, these are high-voltage, high-production value programs.

: Yeah. The production of TV shows is very expensive. And as we see businesses like Hulu and Netflix producing their own shows, they're going to have to find a way to recoup those costs. They're no longer just licensing some movies for us to watch. They're going to need a way to make their money back. And I think commercials are one way that we've always been able to make some money for content providers.

RATH: So they'll be around at least for a little while longer.

: Yeah. Maybe they'll be - as long as they're not - I actually object to commercials less than product placement. I find that so much more offensive and intolerable.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: That's right. Anthony Breznican is a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly. Anthony, thank you for coming in.

: And thank you for that little commercial.

RATH: You bet.

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