'Friends' Officially Leaving Netflix for WarnerMedia's Streaming Service

Friends (NBC) - Cast Shot- Photofest-H 2018
Warner Bros./Photofest

It's official: Friends is moving from Netflix to WarnerMedia's streaming service, now officially called HBO Max.

HBO Max will also be the new streaming home for all fare from The CW (which was previously housed at Netflix), as well as original feature films from prolific producer Greg Berlanti and Reese Witherspoon. HBO Max is set to launch in spring 2020 and will debut with 10,000 hours of premium content. Sources say WarnerMedia paid $85 million per year for five years ($425 million total) to land Friends for its own service, outbidding Netflix for the ensemble comedy starring Jennifer Aniston. Netflix on Tuesday responded to the news with a tweet.

"HBO Max will bring together the diverse riches of WarnerMedia to create programming and user experiences not seen before in a streaming platform. HBO’s world-class programming leads the way, the quality of which will be the guiding principle for our new array of Max Originals, our exciting acquisitions, and the very best of the Warner Bros. libraries, starting with the phenomenon that is Friends," Robert Greenblatt, chairman, WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer, said in a statement. "Under the leadership of two of the strongest creative visionaries — Casey Bloys (HBO) and Kevin Reilly (original content and acquisitions) — and two of the most experienced digital experts, Tony Goncalves and Andy Forssell, I have no doubt they and their dedicated teams will deliver the world’s best storytelling to audiences of all ages wherever and whenever they want it."

HBO Max will also be the exclusive streaming home for all episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as Pretty Little Liars. Those will join all HBO current series and library content including Game of Thrones and The CW originals starting with Batwoman and Riverdale spinoff Katy Keene. All of those series, as well as Friends, are produced by Warner Bros. TV. The CW's streaming deal with Netflix expired in May. Current CW series already streaming on Netflix (like Riverdale and The Flash) will continue to do so until they wrap their runs. (To be clear, Batwoman and Katy Keene will not be available on HBO Max until 30 days prior to the next seasons; Netflix landed current seasons eight days after a finale aired.) 

The Friends move from Netflix was expected after the streaming giant paid producers Warners $80 million to $100 million to continue to have the former NBC hit for all of 2019. The show will move to HBO Max when that deal expires at the start of 2020. WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks president Reilly strongly indicated back in February that Friends would be pulled from Netflix and moved to the streaming platform when he noted that "it's not a good model to share." 

The decision comes weeks after Netflix lost streaming rights to The Office as producers Universal Television auctioned off rights to the hit comedy. Sources say NBCUniversal's streaming service won the rights with a $100 million per-year offer (for five years) following a heated round of bidding with everyone including Netflix attempting to land the library. 

Berlanti — who holds a TV record with 18 series on the air, including the upcoming Kaley Cuoco vehicle The Flight Attendant for HBO Max — will produce four initial YA movies, while Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine banner will produce at least a pair of features for the service. “What I’ve always loved about creating shows that connect with a young audience is that these fans grow up with the programs and will remember them for the rest of their lives. Now I get to do even more of that for HBO Max, where viewers will be able to discover shows on their own time, in their own way," Berlanti said. "Like any great novel, these shows will be there waiting for you. As a fan, what I’m personally most excited to watch on the service are all the great Warner Bros. movies that affected our entire culture and changed the way we live.”

HBO Max will also feature library content from WarnerMedia outlets, including features from Warner Bros, New Line, DC Entertainment, CNN, TNT, TBS, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and more. HBO series set to stream on the new service include the upcoming entries WatchmenThe Outsider (from Stephen King), J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country, Joss Whedon's The Nevers, David Simon's The Plot Against America and veteran offerings like Issa Rae's Insecure.

"What’s exciting about HBO Max is that we have so many more resources and so many more voices of support for our show, and it’s an opportunity for other creators to have a bigger platform. I’m thrilled that my show will still be on HBO but now it will also be part of a new service that will reach more and more people," Rae said. 

The entire Game of Thrones library will also stream on HBO Max, with creator George R.R. Martin also hoping his prequel series currently in the pilot stage could also wind up there. "Back in 1991, after a decade in television, I began writing a series of novels that I knew would never be filmed. A Game of Thrones and its sequels were too big, too complex, too dark, too sexy, with a cast of thousands, gigantic battles, massive castles, direwolves, ice wights and dragons. Too sprawling for a feature film, too expensive for television. I should have remembered, ‘It's not television, it's HBO.’ Working with HBO during the past decade has been a dream come true," Martin said. "What they did could not be done, but they did it anyway. And now they are embarked on a new venture. No, they won't be tying their shows to the legs of ravens as I suggested...instead they are launching an exciting new streaming platform that will carry all the great HBO programming around the world...classic old shows and thrilling new shows, including (I hope) a return to my world of Westeros. Sign me up!”

In addition to library content like Friends and Pretty Little Liars, HBO Max will feature scripted originals including Dune: The Sisterhood; Tokyo Vice, starring Ansel Elgort; Cuoco's The Flight Attendant; the Anna Kendrick comedy Love Life; and a Gremlins animated prequel series. Others are expected to be announced as the streamer continues to aggressively bulk up on high-profile new series to land subscribers.

HBO Max is expected to launch in beta in the fourth quarter of this year. 

The bow of HBO Max brings into question other WarnerMedia-backed streaming services including HBO Now, HBO Go, CW Seed and DC Universe. Per sources, all will remain as-is — though that obviously could change over time.