Netflix May No Longer Have Exclusive Rights To 'The Office' And 'Friends' In The Near Future

Remember when Friends fans were panicking last year because it looks like the staple NBC sitcom would be removed from Netflix? The streaming service spent around $100 million to keep the exclusive licensing rights to stream the show through 2019. However, Netflix likely won't be the exclusive streaming home to shows like Friends and The Office for much longer. That's because the media companies behind them are starting their own streaming services, and Netflix might have to share the rights to some of their most popular shows. This could really shake up the streaming scene and end up being something either really bad for Netflix, or really unfortunate for new streaming services.

Companies like NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and The Walt Disney Company will be launching their own streaming services, and you can bet that they're keen on using their own library titles to entice consumers to subscribe. But that means no longer cashing big checks from Netflix to retain the exclusive rights to their library programming. The question is whether or not losing exclusivity rights to shows like The Office or Friends will actually hurt Netflix or not.

According to data compiled and analyzed for The Wall Street Journal by Nielsen, those three aforementioned media companies currently make up nearly 40% of the viewing minutes on Netflix. As of October last year, it was library programming (not Netflix originals) that made up 72% of the minutes people spent watching Netflix. That's because eight of the ten shows that people spent the most time watching on Netflix were episodes of hit shows like The Office, Friends, Parks and Recreation, and Grey's Anatomy. In fact, The Office alone accounted for nearly 3% of Netflix's viewing in the US last year, which was around 52 billion minutes.

Other shows that may soon be leaving Netflix include The CW's popular shows such as Riverdale and the line-up of DC Comics television programming that includes Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and Black Lightning. Netflix's deal for those shows from WarnerMedia is up at the end of the month, and it's unclear what will happen with them on Netflix at this point.

Meanwhile, Disney has already drawn a line in the sand with Netflix, which is why all their popular Marvel Television shows like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and The Punisher have already been canceled. And the deal for the exclusive streaming rights to Disney movies will be up before the end of the year.

That doesn't sound like good news for Netflix. Because even though the streaming service has launched their fair share of original hit shows and movies that subscribers love to watch over and over again, plenty of audiences always want programming that's familiar and comfortable to throw on when it's time to relax. Those aforementioned shows continue to be some of the most popular, and if those shows can't be found at Netflix because companies want to charge more for their rights, then that could spell trouble.

But Netflix doesn't sound too worried. The story from Wall Street Journal also includes this statement from a Netflix spokesperson:

"Looking at overall watch time skews towards titles with many seasons. 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."

Even though Netflix still seems to have a problem on their hands, these media companies might be facing an uphill battle with consumers who are being inundated with new streaming service subscriptions every month. Those costs start to stack up, and one has to wonder if your average consumer is going to pay a monthly fee just to be able to watch The Office through NBCUniversal's forthcoming subscription service. If they choose to make a show like that exclusive to their own streaming service, not only are they no longer getting a check from Netflix for the rights, but they might not get new customers to chase after the show. After all, you can buy the entire series on DVD for $50, which is likely how much you'd pay for half a year of any streaming subscription service, and you have it for the rest of your life. And unless there's a huge library of other titles to entice consumers, not all of these subscriptions are going to last.

Another potential problem for these media companies is ensuring that the creators of these shows are getting a fair deal to have their shows in place at these new streaming endeavors. The Wall Street Journal points out that if these creators (the "profit participants" in business side of show business) don't get a fair deal, then there could be grounds for legal action to be taken against the studios.

As for Netflix, they will entertain the option of sharing shows with other media outlets on a case-by-case basis, which will likely be determined by the show's popularity on Netflix and how much of a discount they get on the rights for a show that is no longer exclusively available in their library. For now, you'll have to wait and see what happens with your favorite shows.