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TNT’s Leverage and Netflix: Did A Smart Show Do A Dumb Thing?

UPDATED: Let’s start this off with a little story. The day was New Year’s Eve 2009, and I was enjoying a lazy afternoon on my couch with my newly-acquired PS3 and Netflix’ (s NFLX) Instant disc. In the mood to try something new, I decided to watch the first episode of the TNT caper series Leverage, which I’d heard good things about online. And, as it turned out, I dug it — well-developed characters, fun plotlines, sharp dialogue.

It took no time at all for me to catch up with Seasons 1 and 2 over the next month, even though the latter was still airing on TNT at the time, because every episode was available via Netflix Instant, and new episodes were made available the day after their airing. And compared to using my clunky Time Warner DVR to capture episodes, watching via Netflix Instant was a dream: on demand and commercial-free via an easy-to-navigate interface, and (depending on my clunky Time Warner Internet) usually in HD quality.

This is why I am mad that the third season, which premiered Sunday night on TNT, is not going to be available on Netflix Instant as the season runs on TV — and that the previously available Season 2 has been taken down and is now only available through the service on DVD.

According to a Turner (s TW) representative, decisions about Leverage‘s online distribution are made not by TNT, but by production company Electric Entertainment. UPDATE: Both executive producer Dean Devlin and show creator John Rogers confirm that Turner owns the streaming rights, not Electric entertainment. The Turner representative was incorrect when making that statement.

A representative for Electric confirmed that the third season would not be available, but declined to go into further detail.

Leverage is viewable online via’s “DramaVision” player, and in all honesty as play quality goes it’s not too bad (plus, some behind-the-scenes clips are embeddable). But only three episodes are available from the second season — the only way to watch new episodes from the third season is via iTunes or Amazon VOD.

Of course, I do have my (clunky) DVR to capture new episodes. But my issue is this: In an increasingly crowded content marketplace, it just seems flat-out stupid to decrease the online options available for a show, since the more opportunities people have to discover the show, the greater the likelihood of bringing in new viewers.

This goes double in the case of Leverage, for while on the surface the show might not look like it appeals to the web-savvy, that’s definitely not the case. Creator John Rogers has been blogging since 2004, most of the cast and crew are active users of Twitter, and for the geekier viewers, there are subtle Doctor Who references and former Star Trek cast member guest appearances.

The only good reason I can see for limiting Leverage‘s distribution options is this: A Netflix representative wouldn’t comment on any specific deals that it makes with studios or networks, and thus it’s not possible to say how much Electric Entertainment and/or Turner receive for an episode watched on Netflix Watch Instantly. But if the amount wasn’t enough, and Electric Turner was concerned that by having other viewing options available, it was damaging its Nielsen placement, then it could have been decided to leave the first season on Netflix (so that newcomers to the show would be able to at least get a taste of the series) but otherwise focus on increasing the show’s ratings on cable as well as more potentially lucrative deals.

And I can see the logic there, I suppose. It’s just frustrating that when I recommend Leverage to friends, the answer to the question “How can I catch up?” has gotten a lot more complicated.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): New Business Models For Pay TV Services

15 Responses to “TNT’s Leverage and Netflix: Did A Smart Show Do A Dumb Thing?”

  1. Thanks for the info.
    I loved the show and remembered seeing it on netflix instant streaming.
    I was going to show it to a friend so he can watch it too, but i couldn’t see any Leverage episode offered on instant streaming. Bummed about it.

    • MikeKozar

      Just had the same experience…got some friends all wound up at dinner to try out this awesome show they had never seen, and when we got back…nothing.

      Streaming to my PS3 is my favorite way to watch movies and TV shows, and seeing them disappear right when I was counting on them to be handy is depressing. I want my future back!

  2. @Liz: Dean Devlin takes the time to respond and…where is the update or correction to the article?

    @Evan: Only partial credit. Free windows generally DO cannabalize pay windows – and even though you may think of basic cable as free it is most certainly “pay”: you pay through subscription to cable co; cable co pays affiliate fees to network. So putting programming that costs millions of dollars per episode to create online for free is a poor business model. By several orders of magnitude, the online ads just can’t cover the cost of production, let alone marketing and distribution.

  3. This is an unfortunate consequence of windowing- the network wants to make sure they take full advantage of each individual distribution method, and the theory is that putting the eps online and on Netflix will cannibalize viewership for the network. If only networks looked at the overwhelming amour of research proving that multiple distribution outlets don’t cannibalize existing viewership…

  4. We don’t know if it’s a smart or dumb thing without knowing the financial details. And catching up isn’t that big a deal if you already have that Netflix DVD rental account anyway.

    • Raduloket

      Financial details don’t follow much of a logical pattern. For examples of this, see the cancellation of shows like Deadwood and Farscape. Ratings don’t always play into a show’s success, but exposure makes a huge difference. Much of the Netflix vs. Cable debate is about which medium will control television in the new century. That’s the financial detail that’s probably at the heart of this.

  5. I’d like the name of the TNT representative who told you this. It’s a complete lie. As Executive Producer of the show and CEO of Electric Entertainment, I can assure you that if we controlled the streaming rights in the US our show would be on Netflix. But we do not control the streaming rights, TNT does.