‘Seinfeld’ Netflix Premiere Marred by Aspect Ratio Ruining Jokes

Seinfeld just hit Netflix on October 1, a landmark event for fans of the series, and possibly for Netflix itself. It remains to be seen if Seinfeld will be as huge a monetary win for the streaming giant as Avatar: The Last Airbender was, but there’s no denying how thrilled fans are to be able to easily stream the show. However, there’s a small caveat — well, a big caveat for some. Seinfeld’s aspect ratio is marring its Netflix debut. In fact, the aspect ratio winds up ruining some jokes entirely, and some fans are up in arms. 

How much did Netflix pay for ‘Seinfeld’?

Jerry Seinfeld performing a comedy routine in a suit.
Jerry Seinfeld | Theo Wargo/Getty Images for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Seinfeld has finally migrated from Hulu to Netflix, a move that could reap major benefits for Netflix. But if it doesn’t, the platform is going to be in the hole for quite a hefty sum. Netflix reportedly paid over $500 million for Seinfeld, according to Time

Seinfeld is the television comedy that all television comedy is measured against. It is as fresh and funny as ever, and will be available to the world in 4K for the first time. We can’t wait to welcome Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer to their new global home on Netflix,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos of the deal. 

“The main reason people subscribe is choice. You have to have a high volume of attractive content in addition to the standout originals, where there’s no guarantee they’re going to be breakout hits,” said Tim Westcott, a media analyst for OMDIA.

Seinfeld could be a huge deal for Netflix, given that it recently had some of its big moneymakers sniped by other streaming platforms. WarnerMedia outbid Netflix for Friends, paying $425 million for streaming rights on HBO Max. NBCUniversal shelled out $500 million for The Office

As Time notes, Netflix’s share of worldwide demand interest, as reported by Parrot Analytics, saw a dip below 50% this year. 

‘Seinfeld’ viewers find Netflix aspect ratio cuts out jokes

The main cast of 'Seinfeld': Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jason Alexander.
The main cast of ‘Seinfeld’: Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jason Alexander | David Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Seinfeld doesn’t rely too heavily on visual gags, but they crop up every now and then. Unfortunately for Netflix viewers, the show’s new aspect ratio could be ruining those jokes altogether. 

The new aspect ratio, intended for HD screens, is 16:9, replacing the original 4:3 ratio from Seinfeld’s original television run. One fan on Twitter pointed out a particularly egregious example from Season 8 Episode 16, “The Pothole.”

A pivotal scene is meant to show George Costanza gesturing angrily at a paved-over pothole, containing his keys. In the new aspect ratio, the pothole is cropped out entirely. 

‘The Simpsons’ had a similar problem 

This isn’t the first time a classic show has experienced problems with a new aspect ratio. When The Simpsons moved to Disney+, it was also altered from 4:3 to 16:9. This was a big deal for The Simpsons, as the show relied on a variety of visual gags. 

In order to combat this issue, Disney+ reworked the show’s packaging so that it could be viewed in either aspect ratio. 

“To support both the original 4:3 aspect ratio and the 16:9 versions of The Simpsons, we needed to challenge prior assumptions and rethink how content for streaming is packaged and delivered,” wrote Joe Rice, vice president of media product in a blog post. 

“We introduced a new Disney+ app feature today that not only gives fans a choice in video viewing formats but also opens up a number of exciting opportunities for novel ways of presenting content in the future,” Rice added. 

It remains to be seen whether or not Netflix will make 4:3 an available aspect ratio for fans of Seinfeld

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