The high-profile departure of Friends from Netflix after its run as one of the most-watched shows on the streaming service elicited shrugs from the company’s management team during their fourth-quarter earnings interview Tuesday.
Asked by Michael Morris, the Guggenheim Securities analyst who moderated the earnings interview, whether the show’s exit had affected user engagement, head of content Ted Sarandos replied, “Nothing we can see or we can measure.”
The comment came after the company reported a rise of 8.8 million global subscribers in the fourth quarter. Friends officially went dark on Netflix on January 1 and will resume streaming in the U.S. in May when WarnerMedia launches its subscription streaming entrant, HBO Max.
As the streaming competition intensifies, many analysts and media observers point to avid viewing of titles like The Office, Friends and Gray’s Anatomy — all of which are of leaving Netflix — and questioned how the company will cope. Such “comfort-food” staples, others counter, are hardly the kinds of building blocks that popular film and TV originals can be.
Sarandos elaborated a bit on his terse initial statement. “We’ve had, over the years, incredible, popular product come on and off the service,” he said. “It expires, and typically what happens is, our members, through our incredible personalization, incredible library and deep library, are able to find their next favorite show. That’s what will happen with Friends fans. Some of them will find it elsewhere. Some of them will find their next favorite show” on Netflix.
CEO Reed Hastings recalled having to pull the plug 10 years ago on Disney titles due to Starz getting the rights. “We were all worried about the impact,” he said. “Instead, people came back. The magic of the personalized service and they were able to find other things to watch and viewing growth just kept rising.”
Sarandos noted, “We’ve seen that phenomenon over and over again.” He mentioned Nickelodeon programming leaving the platform several years ago, only to find that it was “completely displaced by other kids watching overnight. I should say, equally good content. It’s just that people had the ability to find something new.”