Sponsor Honda is happy, though
By Jason Lynch
Last June, Yahoo Screen sent Community fans into a frenzy when the streaming service closed a deal, just hours before the actors' contracts were set to expire, to pick up the cult sitcom that had been canceled by NBC after five seasons. At the time, creator Dan Harmon joked in a statement, "I look forward to bringing our beloved NBC sitcom to a larger audience by moving it online."
Almost a year later, as Community's sixth season, and its first on Yahoo Screen, draws to a close—the season finale was posted on June 2, making all 13 episodes available for streaming—the once-deafening buzz about the show among its loyal fans has been reduced to something closer to a whisper. And both Yahoo and Harmon, once so effusive about their union, are now similarly muted.
Yahoo Screen, which has said little about the show since its March 17 debut, declined to make any execs available for an interview to discuss Community, instead releasing this statement on Tuesday:
"With the Season 6 finale of Community airing today, we're continually excited by how much fans are engaging with the series. Now that all episodes are available for binge viewing, stay tuned for how we keep Community delighting its fans."
Yahoo did not respond to several queries from Adweek, including how many viewers watched each episode, why the episodes had no ad load when viewed on Apple TV and iPhone, how successful Community has been at bringing viewers to Yahoo Screen and driving them to the service's other content (including original series Other Space and Sin City Saints), and whether it will pick up another season of the show. (Deadline reports that Community's studio, Sony, is in talks with Yahoo about a seventh season or possibly a shorter run that could fulfill the show's "six seasons and a movie" mantra.)
While it's not unusual for a streaming service to withhold metrics—Netflix and Amazon routinely do so—those companies also find a way to publicly spin the non-numbers in some way, like, "It's the most popular show on our service." But Yahoo hasn't even thrown out declarations like that when asked about Community's viewership.
Harmon, too, declined interview requests, speaking only at a Tuesday L.A. Q&A for Emmy voters. When asked if there's more Community coming, Harmon said, "Maybe, probably, maybe ... But always, OK, if [there's] nothing else." He didn't speak about Yahoo.
Meanwhile, even Community fans seem to have largely stopped talking about the show this season. While it never had a huge audience—in its final season on NBC, Community averaged just 3 million total viewers and a 1.1 rating among adults 18 to 49—it's always had a robust and loyal online fan base, which was largely responsible for the show's renewals each year.
Until this season, that is. Vox noted that "nobody seemed to notice" Community during Season 6, while Uproxx wrote, "It hasn't exactly been crickets after each episode debuts on the internet (some sites are still writing weekly recaps of Community), but it's not the same anymore. The strong sense of community surrounding Community is gone."
However, one major company involved with this season of Community didn't get the "no comment" message—Honda. The automaker signed on in February as "presenting sponsor" in a 12-month deal that included pre-roll video ads and integrations. "We've been very happy" with the deal, said Tom Peyton, assistant vp, marketing, American Honda. "We'd love to see it continue."
The company is particularly thrilled about the Honda CR-V product integration in the season's seventh episode, "Advanced Safety Features."
"It's not there were just a couple of guys driving the car; it was the whole episode about Honda," said Peyton. "You hold your breath as an advertiser, and I'm sure they did too—Did you go too far and commercialize the whole thing and take it away from it?—but I think the opposite happened. People seemed to have loved it. We didn't have any negatives; all we got was huge positives."
Honda and Yahoo also cited third-party research indicating 50 percent of viewers were more likely to buy a Honda after watching the episode, and viewers had 95 percent brand recall for the CR-V.
Peyton said another key to the episode's successful integration was that "the script was maybe a little edgier than we are, as a conservative company, comfortable with. But I'm buying into trying to push my brand a little bit, because by ourselves, we wouldn't do it. That brings some value to us, too."
While Yahoo isn't sharing metrics with the public, Peyton said that Honda has "a general understanding" of how many viewers have been watching Community. "I'm still waiting to see the total numbers myself, but the initial buzz is way beyond expectations," he said. While Honda is open to continuing its sponsorship, it will need to strike a new agreement if an additional season is ordered.
Now that the entire season is online, it's possible that the audience and online buzz will increase as additional viewers binge watch the 13 episodes. "I think a lot of people were going to tune in for the first one and then were going to wait until there was at least a stockpile to watch," said Greg Manago, creative development and production lead for Mindshare Content+ and Entertainment. "Maybe they're banking on it being something that people are going to be watching as the summer rolls along now that all the episodes are out there."
Peyton also noted that much online-video traffic tends to spike in the first couple of weeks "and then there's this slow drop off," while in the music business, "there can be a slow startup, and then it goes. We're interested to see which one of those this falls into."
Manago suggested Yahoo Screen should have waited longer before airing episodes to give fans more time to miss the show. "Some of these shows that are coming back, like The X-Files or Twin Peaks, these are shows that people haven't seen in decades. Even Arrested Development—people were like, 'If they do Arrested Development, it's going to be so amazing,'" he said. "With Community, it was just on TV last year."
Whether or not Community returns to Yahoo Screen, Manago expects the service, and other fledgling content providers desperate for audiences, to continue rescuing beloved-yet-canceled series while also mixing in their own slate of originals. "You only need a small, passionate audience to maximize your investment," he said. "And, of course, the studios and IP owners are looking to get money out of their libraries any way they can get it."