Once and Again

It’s been too long since we had a neat new buzzword. So thank the ad gods for “repurposing,” which figures to do for business babble in the early 21st century what “out of the box” did for it in the late 20th.

I first heard the word a few years ago when there was an Internet. It referred to the migration of old-media content and ads to the Web. Repurposing managed to survive the economic daisy cutter that did in the dot-coms, and just last summer, CBS MarketWatch promised a grateful nation that it would “repurpose” full-length TV spots.

Today, though, repurposing as both noun and verb usually refers to same-week rebroadcasts of network shows on sister cable networks. ABC’s Once and Again repurposes its clever little self on Lifetime. Epi sodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit show up on USA days after running on NBC. Fox repurposes 24 on its own air and then on FX.

ABC’s $5.3 billion purchase of Fox Family Worldwide and Fox Family Channel last summer was done in part to give the Mouse a huge repurpose platform for its shows. In fact, while all the networks are showing repurposing much love, ABC is absolutely gaga over it: An agreement with its affiliates allows up to 25 percent of the net’s prime-time shows to be repurposed.

So now the word “repurpose” is all over the place. And why not? It’s so handy.

Take, for example, those frequent moments in American commerce when one is forced to say something that sounds impressive without actually saying anything. Picture, say, a new-business pitch.

Agency: “At the end of the day, your play needs to be repurposed in a rich-media format with out-of-the-box ideas that maximize efficiency going forward.”

Prospect: “Gee, we were really hoping for a paradigm shift.”

Think of the maximized efficiency we’d have gotten out of English if repurposing—the word, not the concept—had been in vogue before now.

Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: “Repurpose it, Sam.”

General MacArthur in the Philippines: “I shall repurpose.”

Media buyers I’ve talked to about repurposing—the concept, not the word—are split on its value. Some worry that same-week rebroadcasts will erode viewership and absolutely hammer ratings when repurposed shows are ready for syndication (a medium that needs another head ache like Gary Condit needs another girlfriend). Others think that since nobody uses VCRs in a big way to record programs, and personal video recorders are as yet in a minuscule number of homes, repurposing has a purpose.

As a viewer, the concept makes my eyes cross and my fingers twitch. I can’t keep track of when original shows air, so when I tune in, I never know whether I’ve already seen what I’m looking at. That’s way too much work for television.

In fact, if this trend becomes any more widespread, it could spawn a revolt of the eyeballs and we’ll all repurpose to less stressful stuff, like cooking shows or golf.

Or maybe, Lord help us, even magazines.