The big business of classic TV for streaming giants

A scene from the popular Netflix show ‘Friends.’ (Facebook photo)
Updated 17 September 2019

The big business of classic TV for streaming giants

  • With nearly 160 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix is now a direct threat to the television industry’s traditional power players, who are now launching their counter-attacks

NEW YORK: How many hundreds of millions of dollars would you pay for reruns of “Friends,” the American version of “The Office” or “The Big Bang Theory?”

If you are a streaming powerhouse, the answer is: Quite a few.

As online video platforms jockey for position with new rivals for audience share, classic television series are commanding hefty sums.

“It’s a feeding frenzy right now,” says Dominic Caristi, a professor of communications at Ball State University.

In 2018, Netflix produced 140 original programs, but the most-watched series was “The Office,” made by traditional network NBC and which ended its successful run six years ago.

According to ratings tracker Nielsen, “The Office” is followed by “Friends” and far outpaces any of the streaming giant’s own offerings.

But in 2021, Netflix will have to surrender the rights to the offbeat musings of Dunder Mifflin manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and his team, when the show moves over to NBCUniversal’s video platform in a deal that will cost about $500 million over five years.

From 2020, Netflix also must give up “Friends,” which will move over to WarnerMedia’s HBO Max platform — at a steep price of $425 million for five years.

And reports say HBO Max is looking to acquire the rights to both “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” for an eye-popping $1.5 billion.

When Netflix entered the streaming game in 2010, networks and production studios generally maintained a policy of using the platform as the third option after a show’s original broadcast run and a life of reruns in syndication. It was an easy way to monetize their investments.

But with nearly 160 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix is now a direct threat to the television industry’s traditional power players, who are now launching their counter-attacks.

“People want an experience that they can share,” Caristi notes.

“In the golden years of television, we always talked about ‘water cooler’ shows — the programs that people at work the next day would talk about,” he explains.

“The shows that have been here longer like ‘Friends’ have a cumulative audience — people who saw them in the ‘90s when it first aired, the ones who saw the reruns, the people who are watching them now. And so they’re able to share that experience with more people.”

Apple and Disney will launch their own TV ventures. WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal will follow suit over the next year.

They’ve all spent billions of dollars to acquire and produce content that will draw in subscribers and rival Netflix’s vast offering.

“Sharing destination assets like that is not a good model to share — my belief is that they should be exclusive,” Kevin Reilly, who is running HBO Max for WarnerMedia, said in February about buying the rights to show “Friends.”

Disney is adopting the same strategy for Disney+, where it will show all the Marvel superhero films, Pixar animated classics and “Star Wars” movies. Until now, some were accessible on other platforms.

The industry changes mark a fundamental shift in the trajectories of these classic television series, whose second lives as rerun staples on cable networks and Netflix have somewhat lessened their value.

“I think Netflix is going to feel the effect,” Caristi says. “They’ll still be the number one, at least for a while, but they’ll lose some market share.”

No one thinks classic series from the ‘90s are enough on their own to draw in subscribers for the new platforms, but for Caristi, they help streaming services “make sure that there’s enough content you’re interested in.”

In this calculus, nothing is as golden as a sitcom — not even the behemoths of the latest peak TV era like “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men.”

“You don’t have to watch them in sequence. You don’t have to know a lot about the characters. You can come to the program wherever and watch a random episode,” Caristi says of the enduring appeal of half-hour comedies.


Social media app TikTok removes Daesh propaganda videos

Updated 22 October 2019

Social media app TikTok removes Daesh propaganda videos

  • An employee at TikTok told AFP that about 10 accounts were removed for posting the videos
  • The videos featured corpses being paraded through streets and Daesh fighters with guns
BEIJING: Social media app TikTok has taken down accounts that were posting propaganda videos for the Daesh group, a company employee said Tuesday, in the latest scandal to hit the popular platform.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, claimed some 500 million users globally last year, making it one of the most popular social apps.

An employee at TikTok told AFP that about 10 accounts were removed for posting the videos.

“Only one of those videos even had views that reached into double digits before being taken down,” said the staffer, who declined to be named.

The videos featured corpses being paraded through streets and Daesh fighters with guns, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story on Monday.

The Journal said the posts were from about two dozen accounts, which were identified by social media intelligence company Storyful.

“Content promoting terrorist organizations have absolutely no place on TikTok,” the company said in a statement emailed to AFP.

“We permanently ban any such accounts and associated devices as soon as identified, and we continuously develop ever-stronger controls to proactively detect suspicious activity,” it said.

Daesh's self-declared “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria fell in March, but the group remains active in several countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, as well as still inspiring jihadists through an online presence.

The TikTok platform, which allows users to create and share videos of 15 seconds, is particularly popular with teenagers.

“Unlike other platforms, which are centered around users’ friends or communities, TikTok is based on engaging with a never-ending stream of new content,” said Darren Davidson, the editor-in-chief of Storyful.

“The Daesh postings violate TikTok’s policies, but the sheer volume of content makes it difficult for TikTok to police their platform and root out these videos,” he said.

The app has been marred by controversy in recent months. In April, TikTok was briefly banned by an Indian court over claims it was promoting pornography among children.

The app is banned in neighboring Bangladesh and was hit with an enormous fine in the United States for illegally collecting information from children.

The company has refuted the allegations, saying they abide by local privacy laws.

ByteDance has a version of TikTok in China called Douyin.