A Casualty of Streaming Wars, ‘Friends’ Sees Spike in Disc, Digital Sales

“Friends” is giving the transactional side of the home entertainment business a very happy new year.

The landmark sitcom that helped birth the TV DVD category nearly two decades ago is once again a top DVD and Blu-ray Disc seller — and this time the sales boost is also being felt in digital sales, commonly known in the industry as “electronic sellthrough.”

The catalyst: the disappearance of “Friends” from its longtime exclusive on-demand home, the Netflix subscription streaming service. With streaming wars accelerating, AT&T, which owns the Warner Bros. studio that produced “Friends,” made plans for the show to come off Netflix once the license expired Dec. 31, 2019, and reappear on its own streaming service, HBO Max, which is launching in May 2020.

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In the meantime, “Friends” is only available for on-demand viewing on disc and for digital purchase or rental — and that’s led to a significant spike in sales.

Jeff Brown, EVP and GM of Television and Animation for Warner Bros.’ home entertainment division, said sales began to rise shortly after the announcement in July 2019 that “Friends” would be leaving Netflix at the end of the year.

Through the end of 2019, he said, sales of the season and complete series sets more than tripled. And since the official departure of “Friends” from Netflix on Jan. 1, Brown said, sales have spiked even higher, on both physical and digital formats.

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“Not bad for a 20-year-old TV show,” Brown said. “The discs really started selling well in the summer, when we announced the show was coming off Netflix and we launched a 25th anniversary promotion — but the digital really took off after the first of the year, once the show was off Netflix.”

The top seller is the complete series set, which Warner re-released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD in September. The package contains 10 seasons’ worth of shows, or a total of 236 episodes. On Amazon, the complete series set retails for $69.99 on DVD (40 discs), and $109.16 on Blu-ray Disc (21 discs).

Bundles of all 10 seasons also are available digitally through other retailers, like Apple iTunes and Walmart’s Vudu. They, too, are leading sales.

Individual season sets are also available for purchase on disc and through digital retailers, including Amazon Prime. DVD season sets sell for $13.19 on Amazon, with digital season sets going for $19.95. Consumers who want digital versions also can buy individual episodes at $1.99.

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During the five months in which “Friends” is absent from the streaming world, Brown said, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will mount a “robust” promotional campaign he hopes will drive sales even higher.

 

Parrot Analytics to Honor ‘Friends’ Co-Creators

David Crane and Marta Kauffman, co-creators of the perennial hit TV comedy, “Friends,” will be honored with the Parrot Analytics Global Iconic Award at the 2nd Annual Global TV Demand Awards taking place on Jan. 21 during the NATPE Miami 2020 Marketplace + Conference.

“Friends” debuted on NBC on Sept. 22, 1994 and ran for 10 seasons. The series finale aired on May 6, 2004 and was watched by 52.4 million viewers in the U.S. alone. The series received acclaim throughout its broadcast run, making it one of the most popular TV shows of all time and turning its ensemble cast into pop icons: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer.

David Crane

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The series was nominated for 62 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning the Outstanding Comedy Series award in 2002 for its eighth season.

High-definition versions of all 236 episodes were made available to local broadcast stations beginning in 2012. Netflix added all seasons in high-definition to their platform in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2015, after completing a landmark $100M deal for the series with Warner Media. Comedy Central began airing reruns in October 2019. Recently, the series left Netflix (as of Jan. 1) and will begin streaming on HBO Max in May 2020.

Marta Kauffman

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The series has also been a packaged media hit, selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of discs, and helping to launch the “TV on DVD” market.

Held at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, the Global TV Demand Awards honors the most in-demand shows of 2019, based on empirical global TV demand data. In 2019, “Friends” celebrated its 25th year, and the Global Iconic Demand Award is being awarded to David Crane and Marta Kauffman based upon their outstanding achievement in creating one of TV’s most consistently in-demand series.

Parrot Analytics’ measurement of demand for television shows includes social media engagement, video streaming and peer-to-peer protocols, photo sharing, blogging, and research platforms.

‘Friends’ No More: Netflix Loses Key Content to Start 2020

New Year’s Day 2020 started ominously for Netflix as it officially no longer can stream ongoing syndication hit “Friends,” the former NBC sitcom that introduced Rachel, Monica, Ross, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe to American living rooms and made household names of Jennifer Aniston and others.

The 26-year-old series stopped airing on primetime television 16 years ago, but has remained a lucrative product on syndication, packaged media and streaming.

Netflix lost exclusive “Friends” streaming rights to WarnerMedia’s pending streaming service HBO Max, which paid $425 million over five years to snag all 236 episodes of the series. “Friends” reportedly was the second-most-popular series on Netflix in 2018, according to Nielsen.

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HBO Max reportedly spent billions more to secure exclusive streaming rights to “South Park” and “The Big Bang Theory”.

“How [‘Friends’ exit] impacts [Netflix] in terms of subscribers … will really depend on what else they have coming up that we’re not focused on,” Courtney Williams, Europe regional director for Parrot Analytics, told Vanity Fair.

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Indeed, Netflix original series “Stranger Things” and “The Witcher” continue to congregate atop weekly Parrot Analytics charts tracking the most on-demand programming.

“I don’t think any specific content matters at all to Netflix,” Michael Pachter, media analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in an email. The analyst contends the bigger threat to Netflix is when other content creators collectively divert content toward proprietary services.

With Netflix increasingly losing Disney/Fox, NBC Universal and Warner Bros. content, consumers will feel compelled to try new services offering recognizable programming and/or favorite shows, according to Pachter.

The analyst believes Netflix will lose around two-thirds of its content (measured in viewing hours) and will have a tough time replacing that with content of similarly perceived quality. At the same time, Pachter says competitors such as HBO Max will take awhile to gain traction with consumers.

“We expect the [Netflix No. 1] status quo to be largely maintained until the end of 2021,” he said. “For now, Netflix provides tremendous value for its subscribers.”

‘Friends’ Props and Costumes to be Auctioned for Charity to Celebrate the Series’ 25th Anniversary

As part of the 25th anniversary for former NBC sitcom, “Friends,” Warner Bros. Television for the first time is putting up for bid to the public props, costumes, studio-edition authorized reproductions, set decorations and production material from the series.

Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman (“Grace and Frankie”), “Friends” helped make Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer household names. The show aired in primetime from Sept. 22, 1994 to May 6, 2004.

The show has been a home media retail juggernaut, in addition to generating lucrative runs in syndication and streaming video. WarnerMedia reportedly paid $425 million to land the show for its pending HBO Max service, beginning in 2020.

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Proceeds from the auction will benefit The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.

Bidding begins on Dec. 3 and runs until Dec. 17. Bidders who sign up for the auction are also eligible to win a production script. Complete contest rules can be found at PropStore.com/FRIENDS. Each item comes with a Warner Bros. Certificate of Authenticity.

Warner is working with film and TV memorabilia company Prop Store, which will offer more than 100 auction lots spanning all 10 seasons of “Friends,” straight from the Warner Bros. Archive.

“It’s an honor to be able to bring some amazing original pieces to the fans, such as Joey’s (LeBlanc) original Hugsy doll,” Brandon Alinger, COO of Prop Store, said in a statement. “We’re also happy to offer detailed studio-edition reproductions, including the Holiday Armadillo costume, Central Perk couch and 10 copies of Monica’s (Cox) peephole door frame, straight from the Warner Bros. Props department.”

Auction items include:

Numbered, limited edition silkscreen coffee cup modeled after the signature image featured on the wall of Central Perk. The print is signed by artist Burton Morris and includes a signed “Friends” catalog, Est. $3,000.

Studio-edition authorized reproduction of Ross Geller’s (Schwimmer) Holiday Armadillo costume, Est. $10,000-15,000.

Studio-edition authorized reproduction of Central Perk orange couch, Est. $6,000-8,000.

Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing’s (Perry) wood canoe and two paddles, Est. $4,000-6,000.

Rachel Green’s (Aniston) Hawaiian print dress, Est. $3,000-5,000.

Studio-edition authorized reproduction of door picture frame, Est. $2,000-3,000.

Studio-edition authorized reproduction of turkey with sunglasses, fez and stand, Est. $2,000-3,000.

Ursula Buffay’s (Kudrow) “Buffay The Vampire Layer” VHS tape, Est. $1,500-2,500. Joey’s bedtime penguin pal Hugsy, Est. $1,000-1,500. Monica and Chandler wedding invitation set, Est. $1,000-1,500.

A selection of lots will be available to view in the “Friends” Boston Pop-Up starting on Nov. 21.

HBO Max Eyeing 80 Million Subs by 2025

With several high-profile over-the-top video services launching next month, WarnerMedia’s pending HBO Max service is looking to cut through the clutter with bold subscriber predictions.

HBO Max, which doesn’t launch until Q1 2020, is eyeing 80 million subscribers by 2025 — including 50 million in the United States, CEO John Stankey told Reuters. He plans to roll HBO’s 35 million pay-TV subs into the service — a significant challenge considering  HBO’s existing pay-TV license agreements.

John Stankey

The service, which will feature traditional HBO content, movies, original programming and “Friends” reruns, will be made available at launch free to AT&T’s HBO pay-TV subscribers.

“The success of HBO Max is built on the ability for the company to rationalize why [AT&T’s DirecTV and Time Warner] belong together,” Stankey said earlier this year.

AT&T, which is holding a Warner Media Day on Oct. 29 to discuss HBO Max, hasn’t disclosed a price for the service. It will reportedly offer an ad-supported cheaper option in 2021 similar to what Hulu offers.

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WarnerMedia Readying ‘Friends’ Pop-Up Retail Store

WarnerMedia Aug. 2 began selling tickets to a “Friends”-themed pop-up retail/promotion store running Sept. 7 to Oct. 6 in Manhattan, N.Y.

Created by Warner Bros. Consumer Products, Warner Bros. Television Group and Superfly — the latter responsible for “The Seinfeld Experience” store operating through February 2020 in New York — the concept targets consumer interest in TV nostalgia, memorabilia and show artifacts surrounding the 25th anniversary of the “Friends” sitcom debut Sept. 22, 1994, on NBC.

The situation comedy about six friends in their 20s and early 30s living in New York City starred an ensemble cast that included Courtney Cox and then-unknowns Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer. It aired in primetime until May 6, 2004.

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Located in the heart of Manhattan’s SoHo district, the ticketholder entrance will be at 76 Mercer St. (between Spring & Broome), and the retail store entrance will be at 503 Broadway. Store hours are seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fans can reserve a time slot to visit with a ticket purchase priced at $29.50.

“The fascination and universal appeal of the TV series lives on with fans of all ages,” Peter van Roden, SVP, Global Themed Entertainment, Warner Bros. Consumer Products, said in a statement. “As we celebrate the show’s milestone anniversary, we are excited to bring the ‘Friends’ experience to life for our fans in a way that pays homage to the remarkable cast of characters, iconic sets and instantly quotable moments.”

Analyst: Netflix to Weather Content Migration — For Now

With Netflix set to release second-quarter (ended June 30) financial results on July 17, Michael Pachter, analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles and longtime Netflix bear, contends the subscription streaming video pioneer will add 5.3 million subscribers, including 300,000 in the United States.

The tally surprisingly exceeds Wall Street consensus and Netflix’s projection of 5 million new subs, including 4.7 million international subs.

Pachter argues that despite media attention to the departures of popular TV reruns “Friends” and “The Office” from Netflix in two years, the service has more than enough content in the pipeline and willingness to spend big on new programming to weather the storm.

“Friends” and “The Office” account for an estimated 5% of all viewing on Netflix, leaving other content that accounts for 95% of viewing on Netflix in place.

Indeed, Netflix launched 21 new shows in Q2, excluding 13 returning series. That compared to six news series and 17 returning series in the previous-year period.

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At the same time, content from NBC Universal, Fox, Disney and Warner Bros. currently accounts for upwards of 65% of Netflix viewing hours, according to Wedbush.

Pachter expects the migration of third-party content away from Netflix to competing platforms to be relatively slow and is unclear whether the service can successfully replace it with quantity and quality to keep its subscribers loyal.

“We think it is likely that Netflix will pay whatever it takes to attract high quality content and believe its competitors will be slow to gain scale,” Pachter wrote in a note. “Thus, we expect the status quo to be largely maintained until the end of 2021. For now, Netflix provides tremendous value for its subscribers.”

NBC Universal Taking Back ‘The Office’ From Netflix in 2021

As expected, NBC Universal June 25 announced it has secured the exclusive domestic streaming rights to “The Office.” All nine seasons of the catalog NBC sitcom will be available on the company’s soon-to-be-launched ad-supported/subscription streaming service for five years, beginning 2021.

The sitcom, similarly to Warner Bros. Television’s “Friends,” is currently exclusively licensed to Netflix. Both shows have become subscriber favorites for the SVOD behemoth — and thus coveted programming for NBC and WarnerMedia as they prep pending over-the-top video platforms.

“‘The Office’ has become a staple of pop-culture and is a rare gem whose relevance continues to grow at a time when fans have more entertainment choices than ever before,” Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBC Universal direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises, said in a statement.

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“The Office” is the number one series on SVOD, according to the media company. In 2018, it was streamed for over 52 billion minutes, and in April 2019, it was viewed nearly twice as much as the next most-viewed program on SVOD.

“‘The Office’ is one of our most prized series,” said Pearlena Igbokwe, president, Universal Television.

Produced by Universal Television in association with Deedle-Dee Productions and Reveille Productions, “The Office” takes a documentary-style look at the humorous and foolishness that plagues the 9-to-5 world. Based on the award-winning BBC hit, “The Office” is a fly-on-the-wall “docu-reality” parody of modern American office life that delves into the lives of the workers at Dunder Mifflin, a paper supply company in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The show, which premiered on NBC in 2005, created indelible characters like Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute and Pam & Jim, and launched the careers of some of Steve Carrell, Ed Helms, John Krasinski, Mindy Kaling, Ellie Kemper, B.J. Novak, Craig Robinson and Mike Schur, among others.

“The Office” is executive-produced by Ben Silverman, Greg Daniels – who developed the series for American audiences – Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Howard Klein, Paul Lieberstein, Brent Forrester and Dan Sterling.

In addition to being NBC’s highest-rated scripted series for multiple seasons during its broadcast run, “The Office” was named one of the best shows on TV by dozens of media outlets, including TIME MagazineRolling StoneEntertainment Weekly and The Atlantic, while also being a consistent awards contender with 180 nominations and more than 40 wins.

Among its prestigious honors are the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, the Peabody Award, AFI Honors, the Producers Guild Award, the Writers Guild Award, the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy, and a Television Critic’s Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy.

NBC Universal Planning to Offer ‘The Office’ on New Streaming Service

NBC Universal reportedly plans to stream popular catalog sitcom, “The Office” on its pending streaming video service.

The media company owned by Comcast disclosed the move May 13 during its advertising upfront at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Comcast is slated to launch a free ad-supported VOD service for Xfinity subscribers next year. Non-pay-TV subs would be charged an undisclosed monthly fee.

“While other companies are pushing advertisers out, we’re bringing you in,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and client partnerships at NBC Universal, told advertisers, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the move.

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Yaccarino is on Hulu’s board of directors, along with NBC Universal’s Matt Bond and Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment. NBC Universal co-owns Hulu with Disney.

The programming decision is significant since “The Office,” along with WarnerMedia’s “Friends,” remains extremely popular on Netflix. The SVOD behemoth recently renewed an exclusive license agreement for ‘The Office” through 2020.

Last year, it reportedly paid WarnerMedia $100 million for exclusive rights to an additional single season of the sitcom.

Netflix earlier this year tweeted it had signed “Office” star Steve Carell for a new workplace comedy created by “Office” showrunner Greg Daniels about people working in the new armed services unit: “Space Force.”

Netflix Original Content Outpacing Licensed Fare

As expected, Netflix is spending more on original content than licensing third-party programming. While Netflix senior management has long championed original vs. licensed fare as evidenced by its indifference toward Disney’s decision to withdraw first-run movies from the streaming service – now there’s data to prove it.

London-based Ampere Analysis found that 51% of domestic programming was original (proprietary and exclusive from studio partners) through the end of 2018 – up from 25% at the end of 2016. The research firm contends 30% of Netflix original content is studio based.

“Netflix’s strategy is clearly moving towards a self-sufficiency model,” analyst Lottie Towler said in a statement. “Its focus on growing the proportion of original content in its catalog shows no sign of slowing down – in fact Ampere’s analysis shows the streaming giant is reaching a point where it produces almost all the new and fresh content, while only the older content is licensed.”

In December 2017, more than 3,000 titles available on Netflix U.K. were available in more than 15 Netflix markets worldwide. In December 2018 the tally had increased by 1,600 titles.

“I’d say the vast majority of the content that is watched on Netflix [is] our original content brands,” CCO Ted Sarandos said on the fourth-quarter fiscal webcast.

Ampere contends Netflix’s focus on proprietary programming will help the streamer when episodic content producers such as Disney/ABC Television, Warner Bros. Television and NBC Universal pull back popular shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Friends,” and “The Office,” among others.

“This will position Netflix well in the market should other major studios follow in the steps of Fox and Disney and pull their content from SVOD services in advance of launching their own [direct-to-consumer] offers,” Towler said.