“Friends” will be available to watch on WarnerMedia’s new direct-to-consumer streaming service, but the classic sitcom isn’t leaving Netflix anytime soon, AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson confirmed Tuesday.
Produced by Warner Bros. Television, “Friends” was a major prime-time hit for NBC from 1994 to 2004. The series’ popularity endured through syndicated repeats, and has found a new generation of fans through streaming behemoth Netflix.
The announcement that WarnerMedia is launching its own streaming service, set to commence in late 2019, led to speculation that the company would pull “Friends” from Netflix. That caused a minor panic among the show’s legion of fans.
But the renewal of the streaming rights to “Friends” on a non-exclusive basis — which Stephenson confirmed at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference — indicates that at least some TV and movie studios plan to keep doing business as sellers of programs and films to Netflix while pursuing their own direct-to-consumer streaming businesses.
Netflix has a new deal for the streaming rights to “Friends” through 2019, according to a person familiar with the details of the deal and not authorized to discuss them publicly. The following year WarnerMedia has the option to stream the show exclusively on its own service or share it with Netflix.
Based on Stephenson’s comments, the show will be on the new WarnerMedia streaming platform.
Netflix will reportedly pay significantly more to keep “Friends.” Since 2015, the company is said to have paid $30 million a year for the exclusive rights to stream all 236 episodes in the U.S. and Canada since 2015. Published reports put the license fee in the range of $80 million to $100 million in 2019.
The WarnerMedia service — which will carry content from WarnerMedia properties HBO, Turner and the Warner Bros. TV and movie libraries — is part of the “new reality” that media companies have to establish a direct relationship with their audiences as more consumers opt not to sign up for pay-television subscriptions, Stephenson said.
Stephenson said the goal of the new WarnerMedia service was “not to become another Netflix and not to create a direct-to-consumer product that rivals Netflix in terms of being a warehouse of content.”
His description of Netflix as a “warehouse” appears to be another attempt to define WarnerMedia’s product as a premium service. He has previously compared Netflix to mass-market retailer Walmart.