The One Where 'Friends' Disappears From Streaming (for Now)

The classic sitcom is leaving Netflix on Jan. 1 and won't be available to stream until the May launch of HBO Max.
NBC/Photofest
'Friends'

When the clock strikes midnight and a new decade begins, one of the most popular TV shows of the streaming age will disappear from Netflix.

Friends, which has called Netflix its streaming home for the last five years, will no longer be available on the service in the U.S. beginning Jan. 1. It won’t return to streaming until the May launch of HBO Max.

How will fans get their fix of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe until then? They’ll have to revert to more antiquated forms of viewing. The DVDs and Blu-rays, including a 25th anniversary box set released in September, are available from retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target. Episodes and complete seasons are also available to purchase via online marketplaces like Amazon Video, Apple TV, Google Play and Vudu.

Of course, there’s also linear television, where the show still regularly airs in syndication on networks including TBS and Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite programming block.

Viewers outside the U.S., meanwhile, can still find Friends on Netflix.

In many ways, the rise in popularity of Friends on Netflix has come to define the last decade in streaming television. Studio Warner Bros. TV licensed the show to Ted Sarandos and Co. in late 2014 for $30 million a year, and all 236 episodes became available on Netflix on Jan. 1, 2015. Very quickly it began to catch on with a new generation of fans, many of whom were too young to watch the show during the series’ original run from 1994 to 2004.

Friends — which turned Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry,  Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow into household names — was the second most-streamed show on Netflix in 2018, according to Nielsen, with users watching 32.6 billion minutes of the show during the year. (It came in behind The Office, which will move to NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service in 2021.)

But as Netflix grew bigger on the back of licensed programming like Friends (the streamer hit 158 million subscribers at the end of September), media companies began to question the long-term value of giving up their crown jewel properties to their chief rival. And when WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey announced plans for the streaming service that would become HBO Max in October 2018, it became all but assured that Friends would eventually leave Netflix for a new home.

That pending date could have been a year sooner. Warner Bros.’ deal with Netflix was set to expire at the end of 2018. But with HBO Max still more than a year from launch (and fans applying pressure), the two companies inked a $80 million licensing deal that would keep Friends on Netflix through 2019. Though the pact also included plans for future years in which Netflix and HBO Max could share the streaming rights, WarnerMedia ultimately announced over the summer that Friends would move to its forthcoming streaming service. WarnerMedia is paying around $425 million (or $85 million annually) for the five-year licensing deal.

WarnerMedia has yet to announce the exact launch date for its $15-per-month HBO Max, but it is betting that Friends — alongside other licensed fare like The Big Bang Theory and originals including a Gossip Girl reboot — will be a big draw. Until then, Friends fans will have to find new ways to watch the show.