- Warner Bros. is considering pulling popular TV shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends” from other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu as it readies its own rival streaming platform for later this year.
- Netflix is still introducing the 1990s sitcom, “Friends,” to new, young viewers, data from Nielsen found.
- The media company will have to weigh the value of building the “Friends” brand through platforms like Netflix with the show’s potential to attract people to its coming service.
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People who watch “Friends” on Netflix aren’t like other “Friends” fans.
The series captures a very different US audience on the streaming-video service than it does on cable channels like Nickelodeon, TBS, and Paramount Network, Nielsen found. Fans of the show on Netflix tend to be young, and some may be discovering the 1990s sitcom for the first time.
Netflix’s audience for “Friends” was smaller than each of the cable networks’ in September, when Nielsen analyzed viewership for the show. The series pulled in an average of 5.5 million viewers on Netflix, compared with 15.7 million on Nickelodeon’s Nick At Nite, according to Nielsen estimates.
But the “Friends” viewers on Netflix were younger than the viewers on the cable networks, an executive at Warner Bros. told Business Insider. The median age for “Friends” viewers on Netflix was found to be in the mid-20s, compared with the mid-30s on Nick At Nite and the mid-40s on TBS and Paramount.
“You have this really young audience on Netflix that may be discovering that show for the very first time,” the executive said. “You’re bringing in a whole new generation of viewers … It builds the brand and the show continues to have life.”
In 2018, “Friends” was the second-most-watched series among Netflix’s US viewers, with people spending 32.6 million minutes watching the series, or roughly 62 years, the Nielsen data also found.
The research firm found very little overlap in the US audiences who watched “Friends” on Netflix with those who watched the cable networks Nick At Nite, TBS, and Paramount Network. In September, Netflix was estimated to have about 600,000 “Friends” viewers in common with viewers of the show on Nick At Nite and TBS and 300,000 in common with the Paramount Network. The cable networks were found to have millions of viewers in common with one another during the period.
“The Netflix audience was almost like a brand-new audience,” the Warner Bros. executive said. “That’s something, as a studio, that we play very close attention to. We don’t want to put something on Netflix that’s going to destroy the audience that’s on Turner or on Nick At Nite. We want everybody to win.”
Nielsen presented the “Friends” viewership data at a press event in New York on May 7. The data was an example of a study that Warner Bros., which owns the rights to “Friends,” used when analyzing licensing for the series, Brian Fuhrer, the senior vice president of product leadership, said at the event. Warner Bros. is a client of Nielsen’s. The studio allowed Nielsen to share the data to show how companies like Warner Bros. valued their shows and compare audiences across platforms.
The debate over bringing TV repeats in-house
Netflix is reportedly paying up to $100 million for the exclusive rights to stream “Friends” in 2019. Later this year, Warner Bros.’ parent company, WarnerMedia, plans to launch its own streaming service. It is reviewing every piece of content in its library to determine which series and movies to put on the platform. That includes “Friends,” which Warner Bros. could remove from Netflix to put it on its platform or put on both platforms.
Read more: Disney will spend $500 million on original content to take on Netflix next year, but its strategy could actually risk billions
“If you think everything from ‘Friends,’ ‘Seinfeld,’ you go to ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ all of this TV production is also owned by Warner Bros.,” Randall Stephenson, the chairman and CEO of AT&T, said at a JPMorgan conference on Tuesday. “And we will be bringing a lot of these media rights, licensing rights back to ourselves to put on our own SVOD product” (referring to streaming video on demand).
Legacy media brands that are launching their own Netflix rivals, including WarnerMedia, Disney, and Comcast’s NBCUniversal, are weighing whether to keep their library content for their own services or license them to others.
Companies like CBS are comparing the amount of licensing revenue their shows could earn with the cost of producing the shows, as well as the number of new subscribers the shows could attract, Joe Ianniello, the interim CEO of CBS, said on his company’s earnings call in May.
WarnerMedia will also have to think about how the audience for its streaming service would compare to Netflix’s, based on the comments from the Warner Bros. executive. If the viewers are as different as they were on Netflix and the cable networks, there could be room for shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” on both platforms.
When Warner Bros. started selling “Friends,” it introduced the show to new viewers through local TV networks. It found more fans on cable TV and, now, streaming services like Netflix.
“Ten years from now, who knows where the new platforms will be?” the Warner Bros. executive said. “But hopefully we’ll have a place for a new generation of fans to bring into ‘Friends.'”
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