[Update: Per The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix now says the notice telling viewers that Friends was expiring on January 1, 2019 was an error and the expiration date has now been removed, with Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos calling the impending departure of Friends from Netflix “a rumor.” It still feels like WarnerMedia is likely to be the home of Friends in 2019, but for now it appears the show isn’t leaving as soon as January. Our original story follows below.]
Brace yourselves, Netflix subscribers—Friends won’t be there for you much longer. Back in 2014, Netflix announced probably its biggest TV series acquisition thus far, revealing that all 10 seasons of Friends would be streaming exclusively on Netflix starting January 1, 2015. This came as great news for the show’s legion of fans and was a huge coup for Netflix, which had just scooped up one of the most popular TV series of all time. It didn’t come cheap—Netflix had to pay a whopping $118 million for the streaming rights and to digitally remaster every single episode for HD streaming capabilities. But it paid off. Not only have diehard Friends fans been binging the series over and over again, but the show has now gained new lifelong fans as it was made readily available to an entirely new generation.
But all good things must come to an end, if somewhat abruptly. According to Netflix, Friends will leave the streaming service on January 1, 2019, which gives you just under a month to watch all your favorite episodes again. With over 230 installments in total, that’s not exactly an easy task.
But why is Friends leaving Netflix at all, if it’s so valuable? Well for one, Netflix’s strategy has shifted significantly since 2015. At that time, they were still in the market for big library and catalogue titles to keep subscribers happy, but over the past couple of years the streaming service has been shelling out billions of dollars to create original content like Stranger Things and ROMA—shows and films that you can’t find anywhere else, and that Netflix owns outright rather than paying a hefty licensing fee to essentially “rent” from its owner.
Even with the push to originals, however, Friends is so valuable that it’s likely Netflix would have renewed the contract to keep it on Netflix if it could have. But the film and television industry is now starting to kick up its own Netflix competitors instead of licensing all its content to the streaming giant, and that includes WarnerMedia.
Indeed, Friends is owned by Warner Bros. Television, and WarnerMedia is due to launch its own streaming service made up of Warner Bros. films and television shows in late 2019. While it hasn’t been officially announced, Friends is likely to be an anchor to the WarnerMedia streaming service, serving as a big reason to pony up the cash for yet another streaming service.
Will fans bite? Is whatever WarnerMedia charges enough to warrant access to the entirety of Friends, or will you just decide to buy the complete Blu-ray box set instead? What happens if (gasp) The Office ever leaves Netflix?
Friends’ exit from Netflix is yet another reminder that in the realm of streaming and digital media, nothing is every guaranteed, and we’re all at the mercy of the deals and decision-making of corporate giants. Which is why I myself am still clinging onto physical media.