Netflix is losing its two most valuable programs, and their departure could mark bad news for our pocketbooks.
After “The Office’s” 2021 departure was announced in late June, news broke this week that “Friends” would be leaving in 2020 as well. Programs come and go from Netflix all the time. These particular losses will transform it for many subscribers, and could transform the entire streaming industry.
Although “The Office” and “Friends” have both been off air for years, a Nielson study conducted from 2017-2018 found them to be the two most-watched shows on Netflix. Users spent a gargantuan 45.8 billion minutes watching “The Office” over that time period, with “Friends” clocking in at 31.8 billion minutes of consumption—a fascinating pattern amid the deluge of expensive new content. By 2021, both shows will be gone from the platform.
Neither “The Office” nor “Friends” is headed to an established competitor like Hulu or Amazon Prime. “The Office” will resurface on NBCUniversal’s forthcoming streaming platform; “Friends” will be available on HBOMax, WarnerMedia’s parallel effort.
Fans of both shows will have to add two subscriptions to their portfolios to maintain access and preserve their viewing habits. The hypothetical Netflix user who’s spent years toggling between “The Office,” “Friends,” and the company’s original content will need at least three subscriptions by 2021 to keep their status quo.
The question is whether Netflix’s loss and the new platforms’ gain will be enough to substantially undercut its reign atop the industry. Users may decide just to keep Netflix, subscribe to one or both of the others, or purchase all three. Given their shows’ enduring popularity it seems likely that WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal will be able to lure enough users in their direction to catch traction. That means we’re in for a more splintered streaming landscape (perhaps a fitting complement to our splintered programming landscape).
We have no access to Netflix’s internal ratings information. Not everybody watches “Friends” or “The Office,” and certainly not everybody watches both. But enough are using Netflix to watch either show that their loss means a lot of people will have to make a decision about their streaming services. If the market doesn’t demand a shift in subscription price points, users who wish preserve their viewing habits could be facing a steep increase in their streaming spending.
The notion that two shows could wreak such havoc on Netflix and the industry more broadly may sound silly. But there’s a reason the company fought to keep these programs, and there’s a reason forthcoming services wanted the rights. If Nielson’s study is accurate, we’re talking about two most popular shows on the most popular streaming service, amounting to a massive chunk of our collective television viewership. It’s a big deal, for both the industry and for our budgets.