In the late 1950s, Paramount Pictures was in search of some extra cash. They found a receptive ear in MCA, the parent company of Universal Pictures, which was looking for movies it could syndicate to television. In the early days of that medium, major studios felt that TV was the enemy and refused to allow their movies to run on it.
However, as it became clear that cinemas and TV could co-exist, that changed and major titles started to appear on both the big networks and local stations. However, some studios were slower to embrace this development than others. Paramount saw little value in their older movies; some could be re-released every few years, but the majority were played out and had already been sold overseas. Outside of a few second run bookings each year, they were commercially dead.
However, MCA saw a future in television and while the Universal library was sizeable, the company sought to add to it. To that end, they convinced Paramount to sell them a huge portion of their pre-1948 library, 764 films (not counting silents and a handful of movies Paramount felt still had good commercial potential for reissues), in February of 1958. The cash-strapped company got an infusion of revenue, but inadvertently cost themselves millions in the process. MCA acquired all rights to the films, so they not only cashed in via decades of TV syndication, but also the release of many on future home video formats that had not even been considered in 1958.
Companies like MGM, which produces few movies nowadays, pride themselves on their large libraries, but with the DVD and Blu-ray markets sagging, they have now lost out on a significant revenue stream. Sure, there are still streaming services, but companies like Netflix are showing less and less interest in licensing.
Given a multitude of entertainment options, today’s young people have little interest in vintage entertainment. Outside of outlets like Turner Classic Movies and Warner Archive streaming, it’s conceivable that older movies and television could become quite hard to see in years to come.