Netflix has fired back in the battle for popular network sitcoms by landing the global streaming rights to “Seinfeld.”
As part of a deal with Sony Pictures Television, which controls distribution of the iconic TV show, Netflix will offer all 180 episodes of “Seinfeld” in the U.S. and to its 151 million subscribers throughout the world when the five-year pact takes effect in 2021, the companies announced Monday.
“‘Seinfeld’ is a one-of-a-kind, iconic, culture-defining show,” Sony Pictures Television Chairman Mike Hopkins said in a statement to The Times. “Now, 30 years after its premiere, ‘Seinfeld’ remains center stage. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Netflix to bring this beloved series to current fans and new audiences around the globe.”
Landing “Seinfeld” is a major comeback statement for Netflix, which recently lost the streaming rights to “The Office” and “Friends” to the media conglomerates that own those shows. “The Office” will be part of NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, while “Friends” will be offered on WarnerMedia’s upcoming HBO Max platform.
Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but Netflix paid far more than the $500 million NBCUniversal paid for “The Office,” and the $425 million WarnerMedia shelled out for “Friends,” people familiar with the deal said. Both of those five-year deals were for streaming rights in the U.S. only.
Hulu, which is majority owned by Walt Disney Co., has the current domestic streaming rights to “Seinfeld,” paying about $130 million in a six-year deal that expires in 2021. Amazon had the streaming rights in most of the foreign territories that will be picked up by Netfilx.
For the next five-year licensing period, Netflix topped bids from Hulu, Amazon, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and Viacom, which controls the CBS All Access streaming service since its merger with CBS Corp., according to people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to comment.
“Seinfeld is the television comedy that all television comedy is measured against,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, said in a statement. “It is as fresh and funny as ever and will be available to the world in 4K for the first time.”
The move was a blow to NBCUniversal, which had a long association with “Seinfeld” and could have used the show to help lure viewers to its upcoming streaming service.
But Netflix is said to have been particularly aggressive in pursuing “Seinfeld,” which is one of a handful of durable, long-running comedy series that appeal to several generations of viewers. “Seinfeld,” which stars comedian Jerry Seinfeld as himself going through single life in Manhattan with his solipsistic pals, ran from 1989 to 1998 on NBC and ended its original run while still ranking as the No. 1 show in prime time, according to Nielsen.
The other broad-appeal sitcoms available on the streaming market — Warner Bros. Televison’s “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” — are both expected to go to parent company WarnerMedia’s HBO Max. Some TV producers believe it has become futile for Netflix to bid against companies that are pursuing the rights for their own shows and essentially paying themselves.
The ownership of “Seinfeld,” produced by the defunct studio Castle Rock, is spread among several entities, including WarnerMedia, CBS, Seinfeld and his co-creator, Larry David. All will share in the revenue from the Netflix deal after Sony receives a significant percentage as the show’s distributor.
Even 20 years after “Seinfeld” left NBC, the show’s repeats remain a popular attraction on local TV stations and cable network TBS, and have generated billions of dollars in revenue worldwide.
Netflix is already the streaming home for Seinfeld’s current series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” and his stand-up comedy specials. The relationship was not a determining factor in “Seinfeld” going to the service, sources said.
In its recent earnings call for investors, Netflix executives downplayed the significance of losing “Friends” and “The Office.” The Los Gatos-based company has said it would have to eventually wean itself from outside program suppliers — a major reason why it invested $12 billion on content in 2018 and is investing $15 billion this year.
The “Seinfeld” deal should not be seen as a departure from that strategy, according to an executive familiar with the matter. But the company will continue to license shows from outside suppliers when it’s seen as making sense for its business.