Friends has gone dark on Netflix as of today and won’t be available to stream in the U.S. before it reappears on HBO Max in May.
The end of the line on Netflix for the classic sitcom became a Twitter topic in the early hours of New Years Day, as some fans grumbled that they would not be able to get their fix for a while. The show was extended on Netflix through the end of 2019 in a one-year, non-exclusive extension worth at least $100 million. WarnerMedia then locked up exclusive streaming rights to Friends for HBO Max in a $425 million agreement.
HBO Max will cost $15 a month when it launches in May. Friends in the meantime remains a staple of traditional TV syndication. Technically, pay-TV subscribers can still stream the show through the TBS authenticated app, though viewers through that platform are a small fraction of the total audience.
Friends, which became one of the most-viewed titles on Netflix in recent years, became the poster child for the recent bidding wars for well-established TV titles. Prices started rising because of the arrival of Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock, NBCUniversal’s new service due next spring. Netflix hasn’t just been waving goodbye to classic shows, though. The streaming giant shelled out $500 million-plus for multiple years of Seinfeld, more than triple the $130 million paid by Hulu in a previous streaming pact.
The Office will be the next major title to change streaming addresses. The sitcom will go off the Netflix clock on January 1, 2021 before heading to Peacock, which NBCUniversal will launch next April.
Despite some ebb and flow of titles, Netflix executives have continued to insist that the company has expected to shed acquired TV and film fare as it focuses more and more on originals. They point to internal data suggesting that subscribers spend more time with originals than they do with older, acquired programming.
“We don’t have material viewing concentration as even our largest titles (that are watched by millions of members) account for only a low single digit percentage of streaming hours,” the company wrote in a letter to shareholders last summer. “From what we’ve seen in the past when we drop strong catalog content (Starz and Epix with Sony, Disney, and Paramount films, or 2nd run series from Fox, for example) our members shift over to enjoying our other great content.”
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