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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Netflix faces losing licensed hit shows to streaming rivals | Business

Netflix faces the threat of an exodus of a number of hit shows as it battles to reignite subscriber growth, with almost a third of its most popular content with British viewers – from Friends and Pretty Little Liars to Paw Patrol – licensed from rivals building their own streaming services.

Earlier this month, Netflix’s market value was slashed by almost $60bn as investors panicked that the decade-long streaming boom has come to an end, after the company forecast it would lose millions of subscribers in the first half of this year.

Netflix invests billions of dollars annually in original content – starting with House of Cards in 2013 and extending to recent hits such as Squid Game, Ozark and Bridgerton – in a long-term strategy designed to insulate its business from the impact of Hollywood rivals pulling content they license for their own rival services.

However, research shows that Netflix continues to have a significant dependency on licensed content, with major titles potentially moving off the service when contracts come up for renewal in the next few years.

In the first two months of this year, 31% of the 150 most-viewed shows and films by British users belonged to Netflix’s competition, and a quarter of all viewing was to content owned by rivals with streaming services of their own, according to the research firm Digital i.

“There is certainly risk for Netflix,” says Richard Broughton, an analyst at Ampere. “A significant number of its highest-performance titles are licensed from studios with in-house streaming ambitions of their own.”

Friends, the most popular show among British viewers and Netflix’s biggest hit globally, has already been removed by Warner Bros Discovery in the US along with other hits such as The Big Bang Theory to drive its own HBO Max service.

The One Where We Have To Say Goodbye.

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 (@netflix) July 9, 2019

HBO Max is yet to launch in the UK, with Warner Bros Discovery locked in a content deal with Sky until 2025 that blocks the launch of a standalone streaming service. Sky-owner Comcast has also removed big hits such as the US version of The Office to make its Peacock streaming service more attractive in the US, but it has so far decided not to launch it as a standalone streaming rival to Netflix in the UK.

“The nation’s favourite American sitcoms are safe – for now,” says Ali Vahdati, chief executive of Digital i. “In the long term, Netflix will need to extricate itself from such a strong reliance on US major Hollywood studio content, or else risk high levels of churn when others launch fully in the market.”

This summer, Paramount is launching Paramount+ in the UK and has almost completely removed the Star Trek franchise from Netflix, which Digital i estimates to be worth over £50m to Netflix across Europe. Popular Paramount-owned content that is still on Netflix but likely to move when deals expire include the Sonic the Hedgehog film, the SpongeBob Movie, The Wolf of Wall Street and films The Gentleman and Mother/Android.

However, Netflix’s originals strategy continues to be hugely successful with shows such as Stay Close, Ozark, Inventing Anna, Cobra Kai and films including Power of the Dog, Don’t Look Up and Red Notice all major hits with subscribers globally.

“We know that having fresh, new content is what helps drive new sign-ups, and this is where Netflix has much more security in its offer,” says Broughton. “Of the titles which were first released in 2021 and 2022, Netflix Originals dominate. Just 10% of the most popular shows and movies that were released since the start of 2021 were not Netflix Originals (or Exclusives). So while there is inevitably a risk if popular titles driving consumption are lost, Netflix does have a huge range of alternative options for subscribers.”

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Netflix hitting a subscriber wall has sent shock waves through the industry and is likely to lead to rivals reassessing how attractive, and profitable, the streaming model can be.

The decision by players such as Disney+ to cut all content licensing deals to provide TV series and films exclusively to subscribers to its own service only works if Disney+ can be built to a massive scale.

Netflix, which plans to focus on a “less is more” strategy of fewer but higher-quality commissions of series and films, is estimated to be spending $17bn making and licensing content this year.

The cuts, which are likely to include job losses, are already being felt with Netflix reportedly axing an animated family TV series from the production company set up by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry.

Rival Disney, which owns assets including Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ and the ABC TV network, is spending $33bn in 2022. Warner Bros Discovery is expected to spend $20bn.

An advertisement for Netflix’s popular show Bridgerton displayed on its LA HQ.
An advertisement for Netflix’s popular show Bridgerton displayed on its LA HQ. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

“The recent streaming slowdown is prompting a number of investors and executives to revisit prior assumptions about how large the siloed direct-to-consumer model can become,” says Broughton. “So it is not at all clear that Netflix will lose access to all major studio content in the future. I suspect a number of the majors won’t take the same purist angle adopted by Disney, and instead will take a more mercenary approach, windowing titles and licensing content to third parties where they can achieve solid rights fees.”

Top 10 shows on Netflix by minutes viewed by UK subscribers

1 Friends
2 Stay Close
3 Big Bang Theory
4 Ozark
5 Inventing Anna
6 After Life
7 The Office
8 Peppa Pig
9 Cobra Kai
10 All of Us Are Dead

Period: first quarter 2022. Source: Digital i

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