Distribution Rights Will Soon Turn Streaming Upside Down

Millions of subscribers just want to know where their favorite shows are going to end up, but complex licensing agreements make predictions impossible for streamers.

Enjoy fan-favorite shows on Netflix and Hulu now because major content companies with distribution rights are launching streaming services this year and next. Relationships are always complicated, and studios are no exception. As Disney, NBCUniversal, Apple, and AT&T gear up to launch new streaming services, viewers wonder where their favorite shows will end up.

The entertainment industry is undergoing a revolution that will change the world we know. Millions of subscribers just want to know where their favorite shows are going to end up, but complex licensing agreements make predictions impossible for streamers.

Say goodbye to your favorite shows on Hulu and Netflix

Many of Netflix and Hulu’s most-watched licensed shows will leave between 2020 and 2025. Stripping popular shows from Netflix and Hulu makes sense as new competitors vie for subscribers. The three companies launching new streaming services: WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal, and Disney create TV shows and movies that comprise 70% of the non-original content viewing minutes on Netflix.

Even guessing is up in the air at this stage

Studios don’t necessarily own the streaming distribution rights to their shows. That’s the reason you can stream certain shows but not download them, or why the most popular shows leave a platform before viewers are ready. For example, Warner Bros Television distributed the NBC hit Friends currently showing on Netflix.

NBCUniversal owns the streaming rights for The Office, which is currently the most-watched show on Netflix. The streaming giant recently made a $100 million deal to keep Friends, the third most popular show, exclusively on its platform, but that agreement ends this year; WarnerMedia has already stated their intention to repossess it.

Flixpocalypse is coming

As content becomes further segmented, it will become impossible for viewers to maintain every subscription and the whole streaming system may have to correct. Keeping access to all of the networks and content you have today might cost as much as cable subscriptions once did. Box sets of DVDs are cheaper, but aren’t in the cloud or quite as portable.

The list of exclusive streaming services continues to get longer: Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Fubo, Disney, ESPN, NBCUniversal, CBS All Access, DC Universe, HBO, Starr, Cinemax, epic, and more. It would be nice if we had some indication what shows will land on each platform. Those of us with limited time and money will have to pick and choose between streaming providers to watch old favorites or rotate through subscriptions to binge watch certain content.

What is clear from the deals and rumors is that some of the most-watched shows won’t be on Netflix and Hulu for long. We can safely infer that AT&T and Comcast will want to take big hits for their respective WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal streaming services. The most-watched licensed TV shows on Netflix and Hulu from 2018 are likely to move in the next five years.

Netflix likely suffers most losses

Most of the popular licensed shows on Netflix are likely to end up exclusively on NBCUniversal’s streaming service. New Girl already moved over to Hulu and is likely to stay there. ABC’s fourteen past seasons of Grey’s Anatomy is likely to move from Netflix to Hulu to join the current season. CBS will eventually withdraw NCIS and Criminal Minds for CBS All Access.

Hulu has wins and losses

NBCUniversal granted Hulu streaming rights through 2024 to all of their shows already on the platform like Law & Order: SVU and Brooklyn Nine-Nine but retained the right to non-exclusive streaming for a short list that includes Saturday Night Live and This Is Us. Shows like Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and The Good Doctor are likely to remain on Hulu.

WarnerMedia’s new service is rumored to include HBO

As the third most-watched licensed show on Netflix, Friends is a valuable asset. The same can be said for popular shows like Frasier and Supernatural. After the Netflix-CW deal expires this spring, shows like Arrow, The Vampire Diaries, and Supernatural are likely to leave Netflix and join the WarnerMedia library as well. It seems like a foregone conclusion that WarnerMedia would want those valuable assets for their own service, or at least will want to keep it away from competitors.

The library of available content for the unnamed, un-launched WarnerMedia service is broad. From media reports, it sounds like the new WarnerMedia streaming service will combine with HBO Go/Now into one service called HBO MAX. One concept that’s been tossed around is that the low tier will consist of HBO while the top tier includes all HBO content and WarnerMedia library.

Pricing is even harder to predict than content strategy. Historically, HBO charged $15/month for the channel, which is close to what Netflix charges for the most expensive 4K tier. The broadcast quality of HBO is 1080, not HDR or 4K like Netflix. HBO has a strong library of content, but without Game of Thrones, the company will be hard pressed to charge twice as much as Disney+ or equal to Netflix for a low-quality broadcast.

So now what?

What’s clear from these behind the scenes deals is that some of your old favorites are moving. Streaming platforms value exclusivity as they launch, trying to build a subscriber base, but the risk is the platforms will segment until the consumer base no longer supports the structure. Television networks are already suffering from lack of viewership, and required subscriptions for every platform will cause Flixpocalypse. The streaming market will eventually right itself with a bundling strategy or it will reinvent entertainment again.

Megan Southard


Article Author

Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up.

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