Netflix’s deal to stream “Friends” reminds us that not every deal needs to be exclusive

No one should have to say goodby to their “Friends.”
No one should have to say goodby to their “Friends.”
Image: Reuters/Fred Prouser
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“Friends will still be there for you throughout 2019 in the US,” Netflix reassured people on Monday afternoon (Dec. 3), after rumors broke that the show would leave the streaming-video service on January 1.

Netflix, which has streamed the popular ’90s sitcom since 2015, renewed its deal with studio Warner Bros. TV to license Friends for another year. But that doesn’t mean people won’t also be able to watch the TV show on other streaming services, like WarnerMedia’s planned offering, which launches late next year, Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia, told analysts at a UBS conference on Tuesday morning (Dec. 4).

“They re-signed it on a nonexclusive basis,” said Stephenson, of Netflix. “What does that mean? It means Friends can go on to our platform as well.”

The deal is refreshing in light of the recent land grab among streaming and legacy media players to secure content for their platforms that can’t be found anywhere else, such as originals and exclusive access to TV repeats and old movies licensed from other studios. Media companies have also ended streaming deals as they prepare to launch platforms of their own. Disney, for instance, said it would stop sending new movies, such as the upcoming Marvel and Star Wars films, to Netflix in 2019, and stream them instead on Disney+, a new subscription service launching late next year. Such moves have raised big questions as to how many streaming platforms people will have to pay for to access the same content they get now through a handful of services.

Netflix’s deal for Friends is a reminder that not all streaming deals need to be exclusive. A popular TV show like Friends, which makes a lot of money from syndication on traditional TV, could be even more valuable to a studio if licensed out to numerous streaming services rather than locked up on the company’s own platform.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer,” said Stephenson. “We’ve talked about an example already, Friends, where that’s content that we would definitely want on our platform. It’s obviously very important to Netflix as well. So it was kind of a logical situation. Is it necessary that it’d be exclusive to WarnerMedia on their product? No… it’s just important that we have the content.”