Streamers see reboots, spinoffs, and prequels as prime territory for marketers

Without dayparts, streaming services are offering new ways to align with shows that are likely to attract eyeballs.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photos: Hulu, Peacock

· 6 min read

When Peacock’s original series Bel-Air—the drama based on the beloved sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—premiered in February, it had plenty of promotional backing from parent company NBCUniversal. It also got an extra boost from brands like State Farm, Unilever, and Lexus.

As presenting partners of the series, custom ads for the insurance brand featuring show star Jabari Banks, who plays Will Smith, ran on linear and digital channels to promote the show, alongside State Farm’s good-neighbor brand message. In the show itself, Lexus is the vehicle of choice for Banks’s character in custom product integrations. Ads for State Farm, Lexus, and Unilever products ran in Peacock’s binge, pause, and solo ad formats on the platform.

The brand bonanza for Bel-Air highlights the winning formula streamers are hoping to find as they reboot, reimagine, or otherwise expand on their most popular and beloved intellectual properties. Whether it’s another Star Trek series on Paramount or 15 Candles, the forthcoming Sixteen Candles spinoff on Peacock, the hope is that advertisers will be just as attracted to the familiar stories and characters as audiences might be.

“It opens up a door to a whole new generation of consumers and reestablishes the deep connection to those who were tuning in from the start,” Laura Molen, NBCUniversal’s president of advertising sales and partnerships, told Marketing Brew.

Formula for success

If you haven’t noticed, reboots, remakes, sequels, and prequels seem to be everywhere on streaming television. To name just a few:

  • Disney+, which recently announced an ad-supported tier, has The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, a continuation of the original The Proud Family animated series.
  • Hulu has How I Met Your Father, a spin-off to How I Met Your Mother.
  • Paramount has released an iCarly reboot and has Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (based on the original film) and a Frasier revival in the works.
  • HBO Max has a new Gossip Girl series and has ordered a reprisal of Degrassi (which, if you’re keeping track, is the sixth TV series in the franchise).
  • Peacock has released Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster reboots.

There’s a reason for all the reimaginings: if done right, they can help drive big audiences—and streaming services need big audiences. “We always say you can’t guarantee [a hit], but you want to give that show as many chances to succeed as possible,” David Lawenda, EVP of digital sales and strategy at Paramount, told Marketing Brew, adding that “proven hits” are one way to improve the odds of success.

Advertisers need big audiences too. “They need scale in a world where big audiences are harder and harder to come by,” Lawenda said. “If we can leverage our traditional media—meaning our shows off of our linear networks, or our theatrical with Paramount Pictures—[and] we can leverage that IP to drive huge audiences and expand our streaming offerings, they’re in. They’re all in.”

It’s complicated

But actually running ads right next to that influx of nostalgia-driven content isn’t exactly simple. Streaming is nothing like linear-television buying, which involves selecting specific dayparts that ensure ads run during specific shows.

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Instead, streaming platforms sell advertisers audience segments, meaning that ads may run on any program at any time, depending on who is watching. That means that most advertisers can’t get a guarantee that they’ll show up during a particular show, even if they want to, said Sharon Cullen, president of integrated investment for marketing agency Hearts & Science.

What a new reboot can do, though, is to help drive attention to that streamer, which may prompt brands to up their investment on particular platforms if they’re hopeful that reboots lead to an influx of viewers, Cullen told Marketing Brew.

“I haven’t had a ton of people saying, ‘I have to be in the new Saved By the Bell,’ or ‘I have to be in How I Met Your [Father],’” Cullen said, by way of example. “But I do think it brings buzz and relevance—and maybe it’s, ‘Oh, let's put some money down on Peacock because they’re getting buzz.”

Cozy up

In certain circumstances, advertisers do want to ensure that they appear directly next to programming, and in those cases, streamers have something for them. That often comes in the form of presenting sponsorships, where advertisers pay to present episodes with limited commercials, or through in-show integrations or branded content, including brand commercials that leverage show IP.

If done right, those partnerships can deliver a powerful lift to the show and the brand—advertising’s “holy grail,” Lawenda said. “We always like to think there’s a halo effect for the consumers, when an integration in particular is really organic, or there is a contextual commercial that lives in the break,” he said. “It can be a symbiotic relationship.”

Branded content can bring together even the most unlikely of brand partners: take, for example, these in-depth behind-the-scenes videos for the Paramount+ Yellowstone prequel series 1883, sponsored by—believe it or not—ZipRecruiter.

But ad sales executives must also be willing to leave money on the table if the fit isn’t quite right. “The minute you put a product placement in a shell, that doesn’t feel truly organic, that could affect consumption or ratings or viewership,” Lawenda said. Molen said her team is guided by these questions before greenlighting a brand deal: “Is this additive to the content? Does messaging and value align? Will this benefit the viewer and drive the most impact for the brand?”

Even harder to determine ahead is if the glut of reboots and revivals actually stick with consumers and help deliver to advertisers the kind of regular eyeballs they rely on for their ad campaigns. And sometimes, audiences—and brands—might want something new.

“I think a lot of the original content that they’re putting on there that’s not necessarily these reboots,” Cullen said, “are the ones that are really hitting more with critics and potentially with viewers.”

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