What If Arrested Development Were Coming Back on YouTube?

Buyers mull whether show might have kickstarted market for Web video ads

A few weeks after the NewFronts—where something like 75 shows were introduced—and what’s the most anticipated Web video series out there? Why, of course, it's Arrested Development.

Of course, that’s entirely unfair.

As we (and everybody) have already chronicled, Arrested Development is a canceled network show that developed a massive cult following and that has teased fans with the possibility of a comeback time and time again.

This weekend, the show will return on Netflix with 17 binge-worthy episodes. Fan anticipation is at a fever pitch. So it’s fair to ask: What would have happened if one of the big players in Web video—say Yahoo or Hulu or AOL—had decided to resurrect it instead? Sure, it’s expensive, way expensive compared to most Web series. But didn’t Yahoo just fork over $1.1 billion for Tumblr? Couldn’t it have put $10 million aside for the Bluths? And YouTube put $100 million into funded channels over the last year. Wouldn't it have made more sense for YouTube to have concentrated on one or two series with a built-in audience?

It’s fun to speculate what a show like Arrested Development would have done for the online video market. Might we have seen high prices? A true upfront buying market? A chance for some player to bet big—and maybe fail hard? One can only guess. Still, Adweek asked a handful of top buyers and media execs what they thought about all this, and here's what they said:

Meridee Alter, svp, director of digital media at RPA:

"This video moment feels more about the cult of Arrested Development than the fact that Netflix is distributing it. Netflix and all of the major portals have developed original content with significant talent, garnering various degrees of attention but ultimately delivering relatively small audiences. The big difference here is that Netflix is tapping into a show that maintained a rabid fan base long after its cancelation, and those fans and the press would have rallied around the show's revival no matter where it turned up. And where there's audience and media momentum, advertisers are sure to follow."

Shelby Saville, evp, digital at Spark:

"I think it would have generated a lot of interest and would have gotten notice from clients and buyers. It is a known entity with a following and it is an interesting strategy to deploy. That said, I am not sure if ad demand would be through the roof, as Arrested Development is still a niche show and they would have to demonstrate how they are going to build (or re-build) the audience online. Until they are able to show the ability to scale the audience quickly, there would be interest and some demand, but unlikely 'through the roof.' At the NewFront, Hulu announced that it was taking All My Children and One Life to Live and moving them to their platform. … We are watching to see if a show can move from TV to digital and maintain (or build) an audience."

John McCarus, svp, group director, content at Digitas:

"Big bets on anchor programming is not a new idea. But as binge viewing behavior escalates across all screens, we will see a business case develop for more big projects like this on the Web. One of the big Web creator/distributors could and will do this. We're probably only two to three years away."  

Ritu Trivedi, svp, digital strategy & partnerships at MediaVest:

"I think Arrested Development could live in any of those homes. Yahoo. YouTube would make sense with their scale. Or even Microsoft with Xbox, which is the perfect audience for it. My main concern continues to be tune-in. How would any of these partners push that? And that, to me, is the most critical thing. I think we have decent star power in online content, good scale, but discoverability is dismal."

And now, the Motherboy theme song: