Hulu announced today a deal it has made with CBS over acquiring the rights to its long-running drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (14 seasons and counting). The multi-year agreement means that Hulu Plus members will have access to over 300 episodes, and all past seasons of the series (but not its spinoffs).
For much of its run, CSI has been a ratings juggernaut for CBS, and helped usher in CBS’s current love of crime series and spinoffs (CSI alone has produced two of its own, with a third premiering next month). Though it ranked as TV’s most-watched drama for seven seasons (including most-watched in the world five times), the last few years have seen a steep ratings decline, particularly since the show was moved to Sundays.
Getting the exclusive rights to so many episodes and a full back catalogue was probably no bargain, and it’s a little odd that Hulu would be looking to expand its content regarding a close-ended procedural rather than a more binge-able series. Since CSI reruns have never been available on demand, it’s hard to know how much of a market there will really be for them. CSI: Miami ran on Netflix for a time, but since Netflix doesn’t release any viewing data, its success there is unknown.
On the other hand, my anecdotal evidence for the positive here is that I can’t even count the number of hours I used to sit and watch Law & Order reruns on TNT, so maybe the CSI deal is Hulu’s version of that sort of syndication.
Hulu also has non-exclusive rights to the CBS series The Good Wife and Blue Bloods, and will soon add to that Elementary. The two content providers have been working closely together over the last several years, with Hulu now hosting over 5,300 episodes of CBS programming. So maybe, given that CBS continues to be a leader in the ratings with overall viewership, Hulu may be wise to ride its coattails; even if its just picking up CBS’s castoffs.