Netflix's Loss of Marvel Movies May Hurt Subscriber Growth, Poll Finds

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Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos leads the company's efforts to build its original programming library as popular licensed shows are set to exit the streamer.

Some 22 percent of Americans in a THR/Morning Consult survey said they'd cancel their subscription if Marvel Studios films like 'Black Panther' left the platform.

If there was a movie trailer being made about Hollywood's escalating streaming wars, it might begin with this dramatic narration: "In a world where Disney, NBCUniversal, Apple and WarnerMedia are hoping to take down Netflix, can the service afford to lose many of its most popular TV shows and movies?"

That's one key question as the rest of Hollywood plays catch-up to Netflix's 149 million-plus total global paying members. And it appears that the impending departure of Disney films from the service — namely its Marvel Studios and Star Wars titles — could make a dent among Netflix subscribers, according to a new Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll. (The nationally representative survey was conducted among 2,201 adults from May 2 to 5.)

Some 22 percent of Americans in the new poll said they'd cancel their Netflix subscription if Disney's Marvel Studios films (like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War) were removed from the platform. And 20 percent said they'd drop the streamer if Lucasfilm's Star Wars movies left the service.

Among the 18-29 age group, those numbers rise to 35 percent who said they'd drop Netflix over losing Marvel Studios films and 26 percent who replied that they'd cancel over losing Star Wars films. 

Of course, over the past several years, Netflix has been spending billions on original film and TV content in order to decrease its reliance on many titles it licenses from traditional media giants. Meanwhile, Disney is planning on launching its streamer, Disney+, on Nov. 12 at a cost of $6.99 monthly (lower than Netflix's standard $12.99 rate). The entertainment giant has aggressively touted its foray into the direct-to-consumer space, with CEO Bob Iger noting in a May 8 earnings call that Marvel's Avengers: Endgame — the top grossing movie of the year worldwide so far — will land exclusively on Disney+ on Dec. 11. 

On the TV side of the equation, about 14 percent of poll respondents said that if The Office were removed from Netflix, they'd cancel their subscription. Meanwhile, some 11 percent of Americans said they'd drop the streamer if Friends left the platform. These top shows matter even more to those in the 18-29 age group. Some 29 percent of respondents in that age group would cancel Netflix if The Office left, while 17 percent said the same about Friends

Both shows are frequently mentioned by third-party analytics firms as among the most-watched titles on Netflix — and both could eventually depart the service. In December, the streamer was said to have inked a $70 million-$80 million deal, sources told THR at the time, to keep Friends on Netflix through 2019 but also giving owner WarnerMedia the option to include it on its own service in 2020. Warners head of content for its direct-to-consumer offering Kevin Reilly told reporters in February that the company would eventually like its "crown jewels" library titles to be exclusive to its own service. 

And, on May 13 during its upfront presentation to media buyers in Manhattan, NBCUniversal sales chief Linda Yaccarino hinted that hits like The Office would eventually leave Netflix for its NBCU's own streamer sometime after it launches in 2020. "The shows that people love the most and stream the most are coming home," Yaccarino said. (Meanwhile, Netflix, in a tweet on April 24, noted that The Office "will be on Netflix until 2021 — at least!")

Given that Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal have all indicated that they will be pulling content from Netflix, the THR/Morning Consult poll also looked what would happen if all of these popular titles were removed. In a scenario where Friends, The Office and all Marvel Studios and Star Wars films left the service, 32 percent of Americans said they'd cancel Netflix, while 57 percent said they'd keep it and 11 percent had no opinion. 

Netflix has mostly downplayed the threat from competitors, with the company line being that there's room for growth for more than a few large streaming players as the service bulks up on its own film and television franchises. On an April 16 call with analysts, CEO Reed Hastings said, "There's a ton of competition out there. And Disney and Apple add a little bit more. But frankly, I doubt it will be material, because again, there's already so many competitors for entertainment time, which is great for consumers, and it's exciting for us."