12:04pm PT by Bryn Elise Sandberg
The Deals That Changed the TV Industry This Decade
The television industry today is almost unrecognizable from the television industry a decade ago.
Amid broadcast TV's decline and streaming video's rise, the landscape has evolved considerably between 2010 and 2019. In August 2015 — halfway through the decade — FX chief John Landgraf stood on the stage at the Television Critics Association press tour and told the room full of journalists that the industry had reached "Peak TV."
The message was that there was an overabundance of original programming — a content bubble that would eventually burst. Three years later, he stood on the very same stage and announced that he'd been wrong about his earlier prediction: TV, in fact, hadn't hit peak and the bubble didn't appear to be bursting anytime soon.
With the demand for content higher than ever before, it's been a boom time for many creatives in the industry. And that insatiable appetite for TV shows over the past decade has ushered in a handful of watershed deals, each of which has upended the business in its own way. With many led by pioneer Netflix — from the streaming giant's landmark House of Cards deal to its nine-figure Shonda Rhimes pact — The Hollywood Reporter looks back on the game-changing deals of the decade.
2011: Netflix's $100M House of Cards deal
Near the beginning of the decade, new kid on the block Netflix — then mainly known as a mail-in DVD service — outbid stalwart HBO for a new David Fincher TV show called House of Cards. The then-budding streaming service ponied up an eye-popping $100 million for a two-season commitment to the MRC-produced political drama, later launching all the episodes of season one at once in a new release format. Though it was a bold bet, as showrunner Beau Willimon said at the time, "TV will not be TV five years from now." And thanks to Netflix’s House of Cards deal, it wasn’t. (MRC is now a division of Valence Media, The Hollywood Reporter's parent company.)
2013: Netflix's Arrested Development Revival
For as many new ideas the decade ushered in, it brought back old ones, too. Netflix started the revival trend with the bombshell news that it would bring back 20th Television's cult hit Arrested Development for a fourth season, seven years after it wrapped its initial run on Fox in 2006. The revivals that'd soon follow would be almost too many to count. Together, streamers and broadcast networks breathed new life into old classics, including Full House, Gilmore Girls, 24, Heroes, Will & Grace, Murphy Brown and Roseanne — the latter of which didn't go so well.
2014: Yahoo's Community Pickup
Fans rejoiced when Yahoo made a deal to save Community in 2014 shortly after NBC pulled the plug on the Sony TV comedy. The Hail Mary marked the first of many times a streaming service would step in and rescue a low-rated but critically beloved broadcast series from permanent cancelation. Hulu became the new home for The Mindy Project the very next year, months after the show's Fox axing. Later, Netflix swooped in to save AMC's The Killing, A&E's Longmire, Fox's Lucifer and ABC's Designated Survivor — all from being canceled prematurely.
2016: Netflix's $40M Deal for Chris Rock Stand-Up Specials
Jaws dropped when Netflix offered Chris Rock, who hadn't performed stand-up comedy in nearly a decade, a whopping $40 million to return to the stage in two specials. About a month later, the platform backed up the Brinks truck for Dave Chappelle, too, when it reportedly paid the comedian around $60 million for three stand-up specials of his own. The $20 million per special price tag set off a frenzy for top comics, with the streamer later doling out $40 million to Ricky Gervais and $100 million to Jerry Seinfeld. The hefty paychecks even prompted Amy Schumer to go back to the streamer and renegotiate her compensation for The Leather Special.
2017: Netflix's $100M Shonda Rhimes Overall Deal
The Grey's Anatomy creator turned heads in television when she left her longtime home at ABC Studios for a $100 million-plus deal at Netflix. The move signaled that the streamer was serious about luring hitmakers who could create originals for the platform as its traditional suppliers began pulling back licensed shows and films. Rhimes' earth-shattering pact paved the way for a slew of other top-tier creators to ink their own eight- and nine-figure deals, and also sparked an industry-wide debate about whether these backend "buyouts" might actually leave money on the table for creators with track records of creating global hits. Prolific producer Ryan Murphy departed 20th Century Fox for a $300 overall with the streamer the next year. Since then, Netflix has crafted mega-deals with Kenya Barris, Peter Morgan and Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, among others.
2017: Viacom's Tyler Perry Content Partnership
As Netflix began to lock down in-demand creators, traditional studios scrambled to find ways to keep their top talent in-house. One way they did that was by getting creative and banding together the various arms of their companies for cross-corporation deals. Viacom led the way by inking a broad content partnership with Tyler Perry that encompassed TV, film and shortform video projects across various Viacom networks. The company did something similar for Trevor Noah, creating a joint venture between The Daily Show host that allowed him to work with not only Comedy Central, but also film studio Paramount Players. WarnerMedia later followed suit with a massive company-wide deal for J.J. Abrams valued at more than $500 million.
2017: Amazon's $250M Rights Deal for Lord of the Rings
HBO's Game of Thrones ruled the 2010s as television's most impactful series, and by the end of the decade, Jeff Bezos wanted his own Thrones. The Amazon CEO greenlit his Prime Video arm to pay $250 million to the Tolkien estate, publisher HarperCollins and New Line Cinema to secure The Lord of the Rings rights, a deal that set a high-water mark for A-list intellectual property as prebranded IP became an important distinguishing factor in the sea of TV content. Amazon Studios committing to five seasons of a show based in Middle Earth could end up costing Bezos $1 billion all in.
2019: NBCUniversal's $500M The Office Pact
With the arms race for talent well underway, the new battleground for streaming services became library titles. Amid plans to launch its own streaming service, NBCUniversal outbid Netflix for the rights to its own series The Office in a $500 million five-year deal. Then WarnerMedia ponied up $425 million for Friends to air on its forthcoming HBO Max streaming service for the same length of time. It didn't take long for other hits from the past to get snatched up by companies looking to bulk up their streaming libraries. Netflix nabbed Seinfeld from Hulu in a $500 million pact, while WarnerMedia landed The Big Bang Theory for a reported $600 million. The lucrative pacts represent an unexpected windfall for the creators, producers and sometimes stars of the old shows.