Something unusual is going on at SundanceTV.
Per Vulture, the network has acquired rerun rights for the first two seasons of Jill Soloway’s Emmy-winning Transparent, which had previously been the sole property of Amazon Studios. This sale is striking because it marks an unusual case of a show moving from a streaming service to a linear network. These days, movement in the other direction is much more common, as seen with shows like The Mindy Project migrating to streaming.
The fact that little has been publicized about the Amazon/SundanceTV deal suggests that the Transparent purchase amounts to more of an experiment than a paradigm shift. That said, the exchange isn’t irrational, either. Amazon, by selling rights to its show to a network that reaches a different demographic of viewers, is making a move to advertise the kind of content that the streaming service provides. This intention is perhaps most clearly spelled out in the decision to give SundanceTV only two out of the three seasons of the show; this way, if the buyer’s viewership decides that it likes Transparent and wants to see more of it, it would have to navigate over to Amazon and get a subscription, thereby sending cash into the streaming titan’s pockets. SundanceTV, on the other hand, gets the opportunity to air a high-profile show that fits, as the Vulture piece puts it, the network’s “upscale, indie-minded brand.”
Whether more shifts from streaming to linear will take place in the coming years remains to be seen, but given the high degree of overall movement that has taken place across platform lines (e.g., HBO sold rerun rights for The Sopranos to A&E in 2006, whereas Netflix shows like House of Cards and Orange is a New Black are available on DVD and digital download for viewers who don’t wish to subscribe to Netflix), it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw more shows following in Transparent’s footsteps.