Netflix is cornering the stand-up comedy market

Netflix is really hitting the funny bone.
Netflix is really hitting the funny bone.
Image: AP Photo/Dan Balilty
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What do Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock have in common, besides being funny and hugely popular American comedians? They all work at Netflix.

The streaming giant announced yesterday that it had signed Seinfeld to an extensive production deal, which includes two exclusive stand-up specials and both new and old episodes of the his web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The news came only a week after Netflix announced that Amy Schumer would film a stand-up special for the service.

Last year, the company signed Chris Rock for two new stand-up specials and Dave Chappelle for three. They’ll join comedians including Ansari, Hannibal Buress, Ali Wong, Patton Oswalt, and dozens of others who have recorded stand-up specials for Netflix recently.

All four deals are huge wins for Netflix. Not only does the streaming service add several big names to its expanding comedy portfolio, but it also steals them away from competitors, including HBO—a behemoth whose comedy specials have long been a rite of passage for big-name comics.

HBO started airing its vaunted specials in 1975, and in the years since it has become a selective comedy curator, airing only a few per year from major comedians. Rock has a longstanding relationship with HBO and has filmed several stand-up specials for the premium cable channel. Schumer is coming off her 2016 Emmy-winning HBO special (which Rock directed). And Chappelle, whom Netflix lured out of semi-retirement, made his first stand-up special on HBO in 2000.

With its deep pockets, Netflix has managed to outbid most other networks to become the top destination for stand-up comedy in television:

(Seeso, a comedy streaming service owned by NBCUniversal, launched in early 2016.)

Netflix has also doubled its number of stand-up specials in each of the last two years:

The Chris Rock deal reportedly cost Netflix $40 million—$20 million per special, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Citing “industry watchdogs,” the Reporter estimated that Seinfeld’s multifaceted deal cost the company closer to $100 million.

As it has done on the scripted series front, Netflix has bought its way into the upper echelon of the comedy landscape. But with all its original shows and films, the streaming service has yet to carve out much of an identity, beyond being a place that can offer a little something for everyone. The company is probably fine with that, given its soaring stock price and increasing international subscriber base. But it’s clear now that Netflix would like to be known, and commended, for its impressive stand-up catalog.

Seinfeld’s move to Netflix is a rather unfortunate development for Crackle, the Sony-owned streaming service that was home to Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. When it came time to bid on the show, the lesser-known service was no match for the new king of comedy.