‘Transparent’ on SundanceTV May Mark Transformative Time

Streaming series could bring more fans to basic-cable network

Why This Matters

With so many original shows being produced for streaming services, it was only a matter of time before they found their way to linear platforms.

SundanceTV will debut Amazon’s Transparent for a limited run on the network. Every Wednesday, the network will air three episodes of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series, which revolves around a family with a transgender father, back to back starting at 10 p.m. (ET)/9 p.m. (CT). Seasons one and two of the series will air on SundanceTV from Aug. 9 through Sept. 20.

“We are honored to have the exclusive linear TV premiere of this groundbreaking series by Jill Soloway and Amazon Studios,” Tom Halleen, executive vice president of programming and scheduling at AMC Networks, said. “At Sundance, we don’t just program hours; we use these hours of our day to celebrate impeccably told stories. That’s why Transparent is a perfect fit for us — it’s great television from a great storyteller.”

This marks one of the first times a series has gone from a streaming service to a basic-cable network. While plenty of broadcast and cable series have been sold to streaming services as they build up their libraries, the reverse path is far less traveled. Sony Pictures Television is currently seeking a cable partner for House of Cards, which debuted its fifth season on Netflix on May 30.

Spreading Content Among Platforms

With the proliferation of original series across all forms of television, it’s inevitable that some — if not many — of them will end up on other platforms. Besides advertising and subscriptions, syndication and distribution is one important way television is financed. While it’s very appealing for networks to own their own shows if they are hits — AMC and The Walking Dead and HBO and Game of Thrones, for example — it’s much less appealing to fully own shows that fail. Mature networks spread that risk, treating each individual television program as if it’s its own business.

This model offers pros and cons for both buyer and seller. For Sundance, there were nothing but pros, although Halleen is aware of the potential cons.

“Everyone can list a bunch of reasons why they might say this won’t work: highly serialized [series] don’t repeat well on linear; the content goes too far; there’s harm in cross-promoting someone else’s show,” he said.

“To be honest, we see it differently here. We want Sundance to be the home for great television. Not everyone who watches Sundance watches Amazon or Netflix or Hulu. With a reach of nearly 70 million viewers who can now be exposed to a great show, it helps us and it helps Amazon.”

Whether or not a show that’s sold first to a streaming service can then go into broadcast or — more likely — cable syndication depends on the rights initially negotiated by the distributing studio. Many of Netflix’s newer shows are completely owned by Netflix and are unlikely to end up in broader syndication. But many studios carve out syndication windows for shows, giving them the option to sell them to other platforms once enough episodes have been produced.

The Tone Must Match the Brand

If a show is available to be syndicated, whether or not a network picks it up depends on the show itself and how its tone fits into the brand of the acquiring network. Transparent is a strong brand fit for Sundance; and that could be true for many other streaming shows. Consider Netflix’s BoJack Horseman on Adult Swim, for example, or Netflix’s Fuller House on TV Land.

Taking a show such as Transparent and airing it on another platform also serves as a marketing opportunity for both program providers. It exposes new viewers to the kinds of offerings available on Amazon, and it potentially brings new viewers to Sundance, where they will learn about the network’s other programs, such as the upcoming Top of the Lake: China Girl, starring Elisabeth Moss, Nicole Kidman and Gwendoline Christie in September.

“What seems to be happening is if you’ve got a show that’s on the right network, that kind of exposure helps both parties,” said a distribution executive. “There are lots of people who don’t have Amazon but are aware of Transparent. This broadens the exposure for both.”

Added Halleen: “It’s a really great opportunity for both of our services. It’s a perfect fit for Sundance, and we’re excited and genuinely honored to be the caretakers of Transparent seasons one and two for the limited time we have to expose it.”