12:35pm PT by Hilary Lewis, Georg Szalai
'Friends' Won't Leave Netflix Until 2020
After a social media-driven frenzy, Netflix has confirmed that Friends will remain on the service throughout 2019, putting an end to fears the hit comedy from Warner Bros. TV would be leaving as of Jan. 1.
As for the streaming future of Friends, it's widely expected that the ensemble comedy will move to WarnerMedia's streaming platform in 2020 as the new service is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Over the weekend and into Monday morning, Friends fans had been posting and noting when the show's Netflix page indicated that the beloved NBC sitcom would be leaving its sole streaming home on Jan. 1. As of Monday afternoon, however, the expiration date had been removed from Friends' show page, and Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos told The Hollywood Reporter that the show's "departure is a rumor."
During a Tuesday session at the same conference Sarandos spoke at on Monday, the CEO of WarnerMedia parent AT&T, Randall Stephenson, said Netflix's Friends deal is "non-exclusive."
"They re-signed Friends. ... They re-signed it on a non-exclusive basis," Stephenson said about Netflix at the 46th annual UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York. "What does that mean? It means Friends can go on to our platform as well." He didn't disclose terms of the deal.
As for whether Friends will, in fact, go on WarnerMedia's platform, Stephenson said the hit series is the kind of "content that we would definitely want on our platform, and it is obviously very important to Netflix as well. ... Is it necessary to be exclusive to WarnerMedia on their product? No, it's not necessary, it's just important that we have the content."??
But he also emphasized that "every deal is going to be a little bit different," adding that the company wants to ensure it can offer appealing content, but doesn't necessarily want to disrupt existing distributors.
Reps for Warner Bros. TV, who produced the mega-hit, did not immediately respond to THR's calls and emails for comment. Expiration dates appearing and disappearing may be a function of the streaming service's contracts expiring and possible renegotiations taking place.
But the brief appearance of the Friends expiration date sent fans panicking, with many taking to social media to vent about losing access to one of their favorite shows.
Monday's back-and-forth comes as Warner Bros. parent company WarnerMedia prepares to launch its own streaming service in the fourth quarter of 2019, with BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield suggesting as far back as October that Friends could leave Netflix for the WarnerMedia service. Greenfield speculated in an analyst note, "Content like Friends is likely to disappear from Netflix in 2019 as WarnerMedia launches its own SVOD service."
Friends arrived on Netflix on Jan. 1, 2015, a high-profile addition that quickly sparked a fresh wave of memes and think pieces about the beloved Central Perk pals. The syndication staple's arrival on Netflix marked the first time it was available on a streaming service and was heralded with a star-studded announcement. Netflix is currently the only place Friends is streaming, but it remains in syndication on TBS and Viacom's cable networks, among other channels.
While it's not yet been announced which specific titles would be available on WarnerMedia's streaming service, the AT&T-owned division's CEO John Stankey has said that the service is set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2019 and will feature three tiers: an entry-level starter movie package, a premium service with original programming and blockbuster movies and a third offering that would feature content from the first two packages, library content from WarnerMedia and more from third parties.
WarnerMedia is just one of many media giants that have started their own subscription streaming services, drawing on their own library content, in recent years. Disney, additionally, is set to launch the streaming service Disney+, with a number of Disney films exiting Netflix in recent months.
Netflix has also canceled three of its Marvel series — Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil — in recent weeks, ahead of the Disney+ launch, with the direct-to-consumer service set to feature a number of high-profile Marvel series.
Lesley Goldberg and Natalie Jarvey contributed to this report.
Dec. 3, 6:15 p.m. Updated with confirmation that Friends will remain on Netflix through 2019.
Dec. 4, 7:08 a.m. Updated with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson's comments about Netflix's Friends deal.