With several big media companies gearing up for the launch of new streaming platforms, long-running broadcast comedy series are taking center stage as cornerstones of their offerings. NBCUniversal paid $500+ million for The Office, and HBO Max shelled out $425 million for Friends — both pulled away from Netflix. Additionally, Disney+ is taking over streaming rights to The Simpsons library which Disney-owned FX Networks had paid $100 million for in a multi-platform deal several years ago.
The massive recent Office and Friends deals could soon be dwarfed by the first streaming pacts for two big Chuck Lorre hits, The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. WarnerMedia had been looking to secure Warner Bros. TV’s latest comedy blockbuster, The Big Bang Theory, in a deal, which industry observers had expected to cross the $1 billion mark. I now hear that HBO Max is in conversations for both Big Bang and 2.5 Men, with the package possibly fetching as much as $1.5 billion.
Part of the reason why the price tag is so high is because, unlike Friends and The Office, which have been drawing millions of old and new viewers on Netflix, Big Bang and 2.5 Men have never been exposed to streaming beyond a few “stacked” recent episodes of Big Bang on CBS All Access over the last several seasons. WBTV similarly held back Friends until scoring the big deal with Netflix in 2014.
Additionally, Big Bang just came off its original highly rated run on CBS and continues to be a huge draw in off-network syndication on TBS. Two and a Half Man, which went through two leading men, Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher, has long been a top performer in broadcast syndication.
I hear talks are complex, in large part because of stipulations in co-creator/executive producer Lorre’s deal with WBTV, but I hear WarnerMedia is determined to have WBTV’s biggest comedy series of the last two decades, Friends, The Big Bang and 2.5 Men, on HBO Max at launch in spring 2020.
Adding intrigue to the situation is the fact that, likely enticed by the blockbuster recent deals for Friends at HBO Max and The Office at NBCU, I hear Sony Pictures Television has taken out Seinfeld, which the studio distributes.
The classic NBC 1990s sitcom is tied up until 2021 in its exclusive SVOD deal at Hulu. I hear that in the previous negotiations, Sony synched up the off-network cable deal for Seinfeld at TBS with the streaming pact at Hulu, so all rights become available at the same time.
I hear Sony TV has pitched the show to multiple streamers, including HBO Max and Netflix. I hear there is no asking price that the distribution company is floating but they likely are targeting a deal of a size similar to that for fellow 1990s Must See TV tentpole Friends in the red-hot marketplace. That would be a major premium over the reported $130+ million Seinfeld‘s current Hulu deal pays.
HBO Max would be an obvious choice as Seinfeld is owned by Warner Bros. via Castle Rock, as is the series’ current cable network home, TBS. However, after shelling top dollar for Friends and getting ready to write a giant check for Big Bang and 2.5 Men, the company may be tapped out for the moment or at least preoccupied until they can close deals for the Big Bang and 2.5 Men.
Netflix already has a $100-million deal with Jerry Seinfeld for his show, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and two-stand-up specials, though it is unclear how interested the streamer is in Seinfeld repeats as it is poised to lose Friends and The Office in the coming months. Seinfeld is said to have done well on Hulu though it is not believed to be as big as Friends and The Office on Netflix.
I hear that accounting-wise, for Sony TV it is more beneficial to renew the existing Seinfeld pacts as money can be added to its balance sheet right away but it also is pursuing the biggest possible payday for everyone involved, including profit participants led by Seinfeld.
For now, I hear that Hulu is not looking to step up in a major way to keep Seinfeld. The streaming platform is now controlled by Disney, and Hulu is getting a pipeline into a slew of binge-friendly shows from across the company, like the 20th Century Fox TV’s Family Guy.