While Netflix spends hundreds of millions of dollars on original content like Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things and films like Bright and Triple Frontier, it also spends a substantial amount making sure established hits like Friends and Frasier remain available for subscribers.
That might be coming to an end.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told a television industry conference this week that AT&T will shortly be introducing its own streaming service and that it makes sense to keep WarnerMedia content like Friends exclusive in its attempt to capture a lucrative streaming audience. (AT&T owns WarnerMedia.)
For Netflix, the consequence of content owners like WarnerMedia pulling their titles and starting their own rival services could be significant. While people subscribe to Netflix and Hulu for any number of reasons, the ability to stream classic shows is a priority. One Wall Street Journal estimate found that an average Netflix viewer spends 72 percent of their time on the platform watching those library titles. Netflix has allegedly told NBCUniversal, which owns The Office, that the Steve Carell-led series draws more viewing hours than anything else, new or otherwise, on the service. (NBCUniversal is also plotting its own service, and shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation could soon be an exclusive to its offering.) In an era of cord-cutting, shows that people once viewed in syndication are now being binged online.
Hulu may have a leg up in this department. WarnerMedia recently sold its 10 percent stake in that streaming service to Disney, with Disney CEO Bob Iger hinting that the deal may have involved making sure some of its content remains available on the service. Hulu also has the rights to popular NBCUniversal titles like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and This Is Us through 2024.
Without such agreements in place, licensing shows is often for a limited amount of time. Netflix, for example, has rights to Friends only through the end of the year. WarnerMedia could elect to share the series, but if the goal is to drive subscriptions through content that can't be seen elsewhere, it might opt to scoop it back up and leave Netflix without one of its most valuable assets.
One thing is clear. The days of being able to subscribe to a single streaming outlet and getting most of your content needs met are probably drawing to a close. The good news? Not being able to secure another license for Friends will save Netflix quite a bit of money. The streamer paid $100 million for the rights in 2018.
[h/t The Verge]