The seventh and final season of "Mad Men" kicks off on AMC Networks' (AMCX) AMC in less than two weeks, and Netflix (NFLX) has become the show's loudest and most unlikely cheerleader.
The leading streaming video service made the sixth season of the show available to subscribers on Sunday, just in time for viewers to get up to speed ahead of the April 13 season premiere. It won't be a surprise if ratings pick up for "Mad Men's" new season. And it also won't be a surprise if a major reason for the uptick in popularity stems from its widening availability on Netflix.
Rerun TV Pays Off
It's been three years since "Mad Men" first entered Netflix's growing digital vault of content. The serialized drama was on a long hiatus between its fourth and fifth seasons, and that kind of absence that could make viewers move on to something else.
However, when AMC's premiere of "Mad Men's" fifth season earned a surprisingly robust 20 percent spike in viewership, it was easy to see that Netflix had worked wonders to galvanize the show's audience.
"We believe we found an untapped audience of the show," Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said two years ago during the National Association of Broadcasters convention, weeks into the "Mad Men's" fifth season. Sarandos pointed out that 3.5 million of its subscribers streamed the fourth season in advance of the fifth season's debut on AMC. He also said that 800,000 of those subscribers went through all four seasons. The show's creator also gave props to Netflix at the time.
Netflix, AMC and the show's producers haven't been as chatty about the impact that streaming availability had a year later. A good reason for that is that last April's sixth-season premiered with just 3.4 million viewers, just shy of the 3.5 million that it had attracted a year earlier. However, in "Mad Men's" defense, the two-hour premiere did coincide with HBO's "Game of Thrones." More importantly, by the time the season finale hit, ratings were ahead of where they were a year earlier.
We've seen Netflix go on to work its magic on other AMC shows including "Breaking Bad" and "The Walking Dead." Serialized dramas are difficult for potential new fans to catch up on, which opens the door for Netflix. There are now 44 million Netflix streaming subscribers worldwide, nearly doubling from the 23.5 million it had three years ago when "Mad Men" first became available.
You don't need to be "Mad Men's" Don Draper to know that Netflix is just good marketing for networks with shows still on the air.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends AMC Networks and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix.