Content syndication of movies and TV shows is enjoying a renaissance — not on television, but rather in the streaming video landscape — thanks to last year’s Hollywood strikes and media companies’ desire to generate incremental revenue opportunities.
New data from Ampere Analysis shows that, after years of major studios employing a walled-garden approach to the distribution of their TV content on streaming, third-party licensing is making a comeback. London-based Ampere found that the number of TV seasons cross-licensed between Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max and Discovery+ more than tripled in 2023. Amazon’s overlap with studios’ streaming services also grew significantly.
The analysis focuses on the characteristics of studio TV titles licensed in recent major deals including agreements between NBCUniversal, Disney, WBD and Netflix.
Separately, Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures have aggressively licensed major theatrical releases to third-party streamers, led by Netflix.
Ampere contends that Disney holds the most TV titles with licensing power, owning 148 that were still exclusive to its own streaming services as of December 2023 — a potential licensing cache more than double the size of any other major Hollywood studio.
Across all four major studios’ titles with licensing power, the comedy genre is the most common, accounting for 25% of titles. This is driven by U.S. audiences’ continued interest in a host of locally produced long-running sitcoms, including “The Office,” “The Golden Girls,” “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and more recently “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
The volume of catalog episodes of these shows can keep streaming subscribers engaged longer, making them a valuable retention tool. This is particularly the case as churning and re-subscribing to subscription services is becoming an increasingly common behavior. They are also effective in generating revenue for growing ad-supported tiers.
Among the major studios, 32% of Disney’s catalog TV shows are children’s and family content, led by “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Hannah Montana.”
Not all TV shows with licensing power will necessarily be cross-licensed. Six of the 20 most popular titles in Paramount Global’s content vault are in the “Star Trek” franchise. Studios have been reluctant to give up exclusivity for major franchises as they built their streaming services. But that mindset is changing. WBD’s 2023 license deals included DC-adapted content to Amazon, Netflix and Fox-owned ad-supported platform Tubi.
Among high-profile third party content licensing, no title enjoyed the spotlight more in 2023 than former USA Networks legal drama “Suits,” which found renewed popularity on Max and Netflix. The show, co-starring Meghan Markle before she quit acting to marry Prince Harry, set a record atop Nielsen’s weekly top 10 most-streamed content across household TVs.
Indeed, the two male leads of the show (Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams) had their own Super Bowl LVIII ad underscoring the show’s renewed popularity.
Ampere found that 44% of viewers who did not watch Disney+ in the previous month did watch Netflix, making it the most used platform, followed by Amazon and Hulu. These three platforms also top the list among viewers who did not watch other major streamers, including Discovery+, Max, Paramount+ and Peacock.
However, ad-supported platforms Tubi and Pluto TV follow Netflix, Amazon and Hulu as the most watched streaming services among viewers who did not watch Disney+. At 16% for Tubi and 15% for Pluto TV, this puts them ahead of Max, Paramount+ and Peacock.
The prominence of AVOD services extends to other major SVOD platforms as well. Cross-licensing among platforms is more likely to skew towards unscripted content. Almost 30% of the TV seasons shared between major studio backed SVOD platforms are unscripted, which increases to 46% among ad-supports platforms.
More importantly, unscripted titles licensed to AVOD services are more likely to be non-exclusive. Of the unscripted TV seasons, 55% appear on two or more major AVOD services, compared to just 36% of scripted titles, according to Ampere.
“We expect more licensing deals for high-profile titles to be struck in 2024,” Rahul Patel, research manager at Ampere, said in a statement.
The analyst said content licensing to third parties can expand the audience for existing assets, extend shelf life and at the more successful end of the scale, inspire franchise expansion.
“This was the case with ‘Suits’ spin-off series following its success on Netflix and Max,” Patel said. “Such an approach is particularly beneficial in the current climate when commissioners are being increasingly cautious with their content spend.”