WarnerMedia will use ‘Friends’ to stock its new HBO Max streaming service starting next year

WarnerMedia will use the long-running NBC sitcom "Friends," starring Matthew Perry, left, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, to anchor its upcoming streaming service.
WarnerMedia will use the long-running NBC sitcom “Friends,” starring Matthew Perry, left, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, to anchor its upcoming streaming service.
(NBC / Associated Press)

WarnerMedia is looking for a little help from its “Friends” to launch the company’s upcoming streaming service.

The AT&T-owned business said Tuesday its new service, which will launch next spring, would have exclusive rights to all 236 episodes of “Friends,” which was produced by Warner Bros. Television and has been one of Netflix’s most popular shows. Netflix simultaneously announced that it was losing one of its leading attractions — at least domestically.

“We’re sorry to see Friends go to Warner’s streaming service at the beginning of 2020 (in The US). Thanks for the memories, gang,” Netflix said on Twitter.


WarnerMedia also announced it would call the new service HBO Max, a nod to the importance of the premium pay network known for “Game of Thrones,” “Big Little Lies, “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”

Those shows will be available on the HBO Max streaming service. Other exclusive programs will include “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Pretty Little Liars,” upcoming DC Entertainment series, romantic comedies to be produced by Reese Witherspoon, and movies from power-producer Greg Berlanti.

But one of the chief draws will be reruns of the 25-year-old hit sitcom, which was created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman and made stars out of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. The show ran for 10 seasons on NBC, from 1994 to 2004, but has witnessed a resurgence among younger audiences on Netflix.

Last year, Netflix extended its licensing agreement for “Friends” in an unusual one-year deal — reportedly for about $80 million — to keep the show in its catalog until 2020. A recent Nielsen study found that Netflix relies heavily on broadcast network reruns to engage subscribers. Its five most popular shows — “The Office,” “Friends,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “NCIS” and “Criminal Minds” — all come from NBC, ABC or CBS.

Netflix subscribers spend two-thirds of their time on the service watching shows that are not original to Netflix, according to Nielsen.


WarnerMedia’s move is the latest example of a legacy company clawing back popular content from Netflix to support its own streaming service. (Though “Friends” will be available on the HBO Max digital service, it will not move to the linear HBO channels.)

Netflix will lose its other mainstay, “The Office,” in 2021. NBCUniversal plans to use the remake of the quirky British workplace comedy, starring Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski, for its planned ad-supported streaming service that will launch early next year.

Naming the new service HBO Max suggests the AT&T-owned company recognizes that it must create a prestige service if it intends to charge subscribers about $17 a month — a bigger price tag than services offered by rivals Netflix and Disney. Netflix costs $12.99 a month, and Disney plans to introduce its family-oriented service in November for $6.99 a month.

Although the Warner Bros. name has plenty of cachet in Hollywood, it does not resonate with consumers in the same way as HBO, which has long been television’s tastemaker. HBO currently has a stand-alone streaming service, offered for $14.99 a month, which has about 8 million customers.

“HBO Max will bring together the diverse riches of WarnerMedia to create programming and user experiences not seen before in a streaming platform,” Robert Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment, said in a statement. The former chief of NBC Entertainment assumed control of the HBO and Turner channels in March.

“HBO’s world-class programming leads the way, the quality of which will be the guiding principle for our new array of Max Originals, our exciting acquisitions, and the very best of the Warner Bros. libraries, starting with the phenomenon that is ‘Friends,’ ” he said.


Twitter: @MegJamesLAT