The streaming video landscape is changing faster than you can say “Netflix and chill,” and now the industry-leading service could be losing two of its most popular shows.
After reportedly paying close to $100 million to retain the streaming rights to Friends through 2019, Netflix could be losing one of the only shows watched more than the adventures of Ross, Rachel, and their pals: The Office.
NBC Universal is currently discussing whether to renew the contract with Netflix that keeps all nine seasons of the hit sitcom exclusively on the streaming service, according to CNN and The Wall Street Journal. The current contract expires in 2021, ensuring that fans of The Office have at least another year to watch — and likely rewatch — the wacky experiences of the Dunder Mifflin team.
After that point, however, Netflix could find itself without the show that is reportedly the service’s most popular piece of content. Although Netflix doesn’t release viewing data for any of its content, the report indicates that Friends and The Office are the shows viewers spend the most time watching, with the latter the most-watched program by a wide margin.
However, Netflix has indicated that viewing time isn’t the best indication of a show’s popularity on the streaming service.
“Looking at overall watch time skews towards titles with many seasons,” explained Netflix in a response to the report. “Most Netflix originals have three or fewer seasons at most. It’s why we focus on the individual shows or films members watch, as opposed to how much time they spend on one series versus another. And if you look at most watched titles, Netflix originals accounted for 10 out of 10 in the last quarter, or 21 out of the top 25.”
Like many video content producers, NBC Universal is launching its own, direct-to-consumer streaming service in the near future, with plans to debut the still-untitled platform in 2020. Previously, the company indicated it would continue to license out its content to other services, but now it appears that NBC Universal could follow Disney’s lead with its own upcoming Disney Plus service and become the exclusive source for its most popular content.
The potential departure of The Office and Friends in the coming years are just a few of the high-profile pieces of licensed content Netflix is losing, with Disney already pulling most of its content from the service. Star Wars and Marvel movies have already been almost entirely removed from Netflix, along with many of the Disney and Pixar animated features, among other popular projects.
According to Netflix, however, this transition wasn’t entirely unexpected — or unplanned for — by the streaming service.
“We’ve expected this decline in second window content, are ready for it, anticipating it, and in fact we are eager to have more and more of our money to be able to do spectacular new titles,” said CEO Reed Hastings in the company’s first-quarter conference call with investors this year.
“Seven years ago, we thought it was likely [that some suppliers would take shows off Netflix] and thought we ought to get good at creating our own programming,” added the company’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos. “Every year, our percentage of spend and percentage of hours watched have continued to grow towards our owned original and branded on Netflix.”
Investing even more heavily in producing its own, original content has also included picking up series that were canceled elsewhere, such as Lucifer, which debuts on the streaming service in May after spending its first three seasons on Fox. That investment has led to a widely publicized subscription price increase for Netflix that takes effect in May.
Updated on April 26, 2019: Added comments from Netflix about how a show’s popularity is evaluated, as well as quotes from the company’s 2019 Q1 conference call.
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