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Netflix Should Have Let the ‘Friends’ Ship Sail

After the uproar that followed the provider’s near-removal of ‘Friends’, Netflix might suffer as it continues to lose content to up-and-coming streamers.
By  · Published on December 5th, 2018

Announcements for new streaming services are a constant occurrence. Companies have finally begun to notice the significant success that streaming has had in recent years and that it is inevitably where the future of film and television home-viewing is headed. Disney has been working on the launch of Disney+, and Apple has their own service currently in the works, too. These are only a couple of the options that will be among several others that will surface within the next few years.

While this influx of new streaming services seems great, it does mean that some changes will come about for the ones that audiences are subscribed to currently. For most, this happens to include Netflix. Because of the many companies and networks starting up their own services, media that’s been licensed out to Netflix and other streaming giants is now beginning to disappear from these platforms. For instance, it’s become increasingly apparent that if Marvel is to have a future on streaming, it’s likely going to be on Disney+ — Netflix has already canceled a handful of Marvel shows, including Iron FistDaredevil, and Luke Cage.

This will quickly become a problem for audiences: most people do not want to pay for multiple subscriptions to various streaming services. So when beloved movies and series are planned to be relocated, it does not go over well. This was exactly what happened when Netflix recently announced the departure of the hit sitcom Friends from its platform — social media was faced with a massive uproar when an expiration date of January 1, 2019, was posted on Netflix’s page for the series.

According to Variety, there had been speculation that this might become the case thanks to the announcement of WarnerMedia‘s new streaming platform. Although it would likely not hold sole distribution rights of every work in the company’s incredibly extensive library, it does increase the likelihood of it becoming less readily available on other platforms. The backlash against Netflix’s Friends removal incited a deal to be struck in the end that extended the service’s run of Friends for at least another year. A deal that reportedly cost somewhere in the range of $70-100 million!

This event, however, brings up a much larger issue: this is only the beginning of such content being threatened with removal with the intention of moving to another service. As the streaming market continues to become increasingly competitive, what path will Netflix take to stay afloat?

As certain content continues to get removed and re-licensed, Netflix will have to make adjustments accordingly in order to avoid running the risk of losing its audience. While it might seem a stretch at this point in time considering Netflix is the most popular of all the streaming subscription services, it could actually happen a lot more easily than it might be expected. If enough of Netflix’s go-to cornerstone content gets removed — light, “bingeable” series like Friends and The Office are crucial — and relocated somewhere else, it won’t take much for users to make that switch. Unless, of course, Netflix has a plan.

There are a couple routes that Netflix could take here. Based on the events of the Friends incident, it seems that evidence of enough popular demand has the power to save a program. If Netflix could get this intensive audience support, they could likely work out deals to keep this crucial content that keeps audiences loyal. However, the reaction would likely have to be pretty much on par with what it was for the Friends removal, and Netflix probably doesn’t want to wait until the official announcement of an item’s removal to see if it can rally enough support to keep it around.

But, what Netflix could and hopefully will do is see which items are bringing in the most views and fight to keep the licensing rights to those programs that are at risk of being removed in favor of another service. This seems like a fairly obvious tactic for the platform to have that they like are pursuing in some form, and like one that shouldn’t need to be iterated, but then again, that didn’t seem to be the case with Friends.

There is, unfortunately, one major issue with this. The Friends deal has created a precedent, and networks with the rights to those other highly desirable programs will now be negotiating big bucks in order to continue licensing out their shows. This will result in higher subscription costs for users, not to mention it’s simply impossible for Netflix to pay eight or nine figures for every show they want to keep — on a non-exclusive basis at that, meaning other services will still be able to obtain the show, as well.

The other major option for the service is to potentially lose a chunk of its staple content, but to replace it with suitable alternatives. One way this could take form is through Netflix’s own original content. Several of its original films and series have been hits and have become incentives to subscribe to the service in themselves — shows like Stranger Things and Black Mirror being examples. This could be a good path to take, so long as the content stays fairly consistent in terms of quality.

Another way to do this would be to acquire rights to other external media that is similar enough to what becomes lost. They could be items that rack up a similar demographic, as well as hold roughly equal popularity. If, for example, Friends was to leave Netflix, a suitable replacement could be a show like Seinfeld or The Big Bang Theory (given, of course, that the rights to these shows could be acquired).

The second option is likely the most feasible, and this is largely due to the decision made by Netflix to keep Friends. It’s going to prove much more difficult for Netflix to hold onto shows at a reasonable price in the future, and in order to save this one, they may end up losing several others, which will be far more detrimental to the platform. Most audiences don’t subscribe to the service just for Friends, but the loss of a few staple shows might be enough to make users switch over to a new one.

The decision to hold onto Friends may have seemed the most logical choice in the moment, but considering the contract extension only lasts a year and doesn’t even give Netflix exclusive rights, it might have been a stronger long-term decision to let Friends go. Optimistically, Netflix will find a way to continue thriving as a leading streaming service despite the ongoing and rapid changes that are currently developing in the industry.

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I write about film and occasionally other stuff. Xavier Dolan enthusiast. Trying to read books before seeing their film adaptations and sometimes succeeding.