Repeat After Me: Will Endless Repeats Backfire On TV?

Repeat After Me: Will Endless Repeats Backfire On TV?

First-run programming invariably tops the ratings, but a large chunk of the typical broadcast day is made up of repeat programming. Is that inevitably bad news for the TV networks and their viewers?

At Lifehacker, we’ve been known to complain now and again about the relatively limited catch-up options offered online by commercial networks. While Seven, Nine and Ten do all offer online catch-up for some content, none holds a candle to the ABC’s iView service in terms of breadth of content or ability to find an ISP that doesn’t include those viewings in your monthly download quota.

One cynical but possibly accurate response from the commercial networks might be: “Why worry about whether you can catch up online? If it’s a popular show, we’ll be repeating it on air soon enough.”

With some classes of show, that’s undoubtedly the case. A recent check by the Sun-Herald found that within the space of seven days, 53 different episodes of the Simpsons were broadcast on Channel Ten and Fox8, while 33 episodes of Two And A Half Men showed up on Nine and Arena. Both US sitcoms are in current production and have healthy back catalogues, but at those rates more than an entire season’s worth of episodes (typically around 22 shows) is being broadcast each week.

Figures like that might suggest we live in a repeat-heavy universe, but the reality is more complicated. In effect, what we have in Australia is prime-time television that runs at two speeds.

On the one hand, there’s so-called “event” programming, which people feel compelled to watch as it’s being broadcast, and which invariably scores the highest ratings. That includes sports, reality and competition programming (such as MasterChef and its forthcoming kids spin-off), and the very occasional drama series (Underbelly and, perhaps, Packed To The Rafters being prominent local examples).

In most cases, non-fiction event programming isn’t going to repeated after its original broadcast run on a mainstream free-to-air channel. We haven’t yet been subjected to repeats of MasterChef Series 1 on Ten, for instance, though it’s not entirely impossible to imagine it showing up on a daytime slot (and almost inevitable that it will end up on a pay TV food channel at some point). But because so much of the structure of these shows is based on not knowing the outcome, repeat options don’t look so appealing. (The one partial exception is when a network wants to make sure people commit to a series early on, and run repeats if the first few episodes haven’t rated as highly as anticipated.)

The rules appear to be somewhat different when it comes to fictional content (sitcoms and dramas). In that case, while we’re always eager for new episodes, repeats are an accepted part of the landscape — hence 53 episodes of the Simpsons in a week.

In part, that reflects economic reality. It’s cheaper on a per-hour basis to produce “non-scripted” content like MasterChef or The X Factor, so selling repeats isn’t such a crucial part of the business model for the producers. From a business point of view, that’s a major incentive.

But the situation also reflects the greater attention to detail in a well-crafted sitcom or drama than is often evident in non-fiction shows. Even if I’ve seen a given Simpsons episode before, there’ll be one-liners or background details that I’ve forgotten which make a return visit worthwhile. It’s worth noting that despite the endless repeats, such shows are also strong sellers on DVD, suggesting that we’re happy to experience them more than once.

If television is going to reflect society, there’ll always be a need for new content. But while I wouldn’t personally want 33 separate encounters with Charlie Harper in a week, in a multi-channel universe there could be much nastier outcomes.

How do you feel about repeats? Which shows do you think get over-exposed in this way? And what factors influence you buying a show on DVD? Tell us in the comments.

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


  • Channel 9 should be rebadged as the “Two and a half men” channel ! Everytime I flick through 9, that show is on, and then they run back to back episodes early on and then “adult only” back to back epsiodes later after 9:30pm. They have over exposed teh show and it’s just not funny anymore. If anything, i immediately switch over if it comes on !

  • Just another way society and particularly television, is dumbing down the masses, rather than encourage independent thought and imagination they pander to the lowest common denominator. Hence endless repeats of stuff that was moronic when it originally aired! I particularly hate it when they air a good thought provoking series only to cancel it, or put it on at an absurd time because they aren’t getting the viewing numbers they want!

  • I spend more time playing video games than watching TV. There’s just so much garbage on. The only things we watch is the news and Seinfeld, if we happen to catch it.

    If there are any shows that interest us we either download them or get them on DVD so we can watch them at our own convenience.

    • Same in my household. The TV is used mainly to play games, watch movies and stream videos from our computers. Currently, the only shows we watch are Iron Chef and Wipeout (sorry, but we’re addicted to watching fat people bounce on big red balls..)

      When I turn on FTA, the things that strike me are 1) so many crap shows I don’t care about; 2) so many shows that think they’re funny – but aren’t; 3) the atrocious and excruciating ads; 4) the horrible news presenters. The whole lot stinks, and I’d quite happily pay a license fee if we could get the BBC or something..

  • I rarely watch television. I tend to download and buy DVD’s as they’re ad-free and with downloads I get to watch the episodes soon after they air overseas, which is great when you’re trying to avoid spoilers.
    For me DVD’s are all about the special features.

  • Strangely enough I think one of the worst offenders is the daily news. They repeat and rehash the same stories over and over until something better comes along. But I guess these are all part of why I no longer turn my tv on… That and “reality” shows.

  • There is no boubt repeats are too frequent, channel nine with two and a half men being the worst. However, what they all do that annoys me the most is to start a series then part way through they stick repeats on (Top Gear last two weeks for example). For me that is what is costing them ratings.

    When they do that I just give up watching the series on that channel and start watching the series when it airs on pay tv. You get the entire series without intruption, you can series link to watch when it suits and you can skip through the ads.

    The FTA’s are basically forcing me to pay tv yet they wonder why their ratings fall off?

    And dont get me started on the matter of shows starting late on FTA, it NEVER happens on pay tv yet FTA still doesnt learn their lesson

  • Rarely watch TV now endless repeats or cheap to make programs like cookery, antiques or house renovating (in a recession I ask you). Then there’s the endless emercency service programs which were interesting the first or second time I saw them. But I now feel I should be payed for doing a shift with them. Why isn’t there an opt out for the licence fee. Why not a TV that won’t let you receive BBC programs. After all is it legal to charge a licence fee when you can’t opt out.

  • If by backfire you mean will encourage people to switch to pay tv which they also own and make more from you watching than they do from free to air then yes, it will backfire horribly

Log in to comment on this story!