‘The Office’ Is Leaving Netflix—But Maybe Not for Long

Netflix may not lose all of its licensed content forever.

Netflix Jan 2021 The Office
NBCU is reclaiming The Office from Netflix, but for how long? NBC - © 2012 NBCUniversal, Inc.

Deep breath, people. I know it’s a tumultuous time, but I promise you: we will get through this. No, I’m not talking about the heated political climate. I’m talking about Netflix (NFLX) losing The Office.

Earlier this week, it was reported that NBCUniversal will reclaim the exclusive broadcast streaming rights to The Office in January 2021 for its own forthcoming direct-to-consumer platform. As the NBC sitcom is Netflix’s most-watched piece of licensed library content, this was viewed as a severe blow to the market-leading streamer and a major loss for consumers. But this doom-and-gloom reaction ignores two important facts:

  1. NBCU’s streaming service will be ad-supported and made “free” to existing pay-TV NBC customers. So, accessing The Office shouldn’t be difficult for the 50 million or so current subscribers.
  2. Netflix will potentially have the opportunity to reclaim The Office in the near future.

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Universal Television and NBCU signed a five-year, $500 million pact for The Office. Once that deal expires, who knows what could happen? Given the competitiveness of the streaming wars, NBCU might very well want to bow out of the costly race at that point if its service hasn’t progressed as hoped.

Disney, Comcast, Fox and WarnerMedia compose roughly 20 percent of Netflix’s content library, according to data from TV industry research company Ampere Analysis. Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCU supply Netflix with an estimated 40 percent of its viewing minutes. Original programming, meanwhile, reportedly accounts for eight percent of Netflix’s hours. But the contractual window in which NBCU will exclusively control The Office (2021 to 2026) also lines up with the conclusion of many of the deals Netflix has struck with these major studios, who are also set to launch their own streaming services over the next 12 months.

In late 2017, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that the company would soon be removing its content from Netflix in advance of Disney+. Earlier this year Kevin Reilly, WarnerMedia’s chief content officer of direct-to-consumer, hinted that Friends will similarly be brought in-house once its Netflix deal expires at the end of the year. But these are potentially temporary stop-gaps.

Every Disney movie released between January 2016 and December 2018 that wound up on Netflix will return to the market-leading streamer around 2026, Bloomberg reported in June. Similar agreements have reportedly been struck for notable titles from NBCU and WarnerMedia, per the report, although additional licensing rights will complicate the matter when the time comes. The report also states that both Warner Bros. and NBCU are still open to selling select current and future programming to outside distributors, setting the stage for pricey bidding wars moving forward (hello, NBC’s The Good Place).

In the meantime, The Office will remain on Netflix through 2021, while other highly-visible licensed titles such as AMC (AMC)’s The Walking Dead and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy are locked up for three years after their linear runs conclude. Additionally, the company has aggressively spent (at an unsustainable rate) to develop a significant library of originals in anticipation of its lost licensed content. In March, CEO Reed Hastings claimed the service was spending $1.4 billion per month on content.

So the sun isn’t exactly falling out of the sky for Netflix, it may just be setting temporarily.

‘The Office’ Is Leaving Netflix—But Maybe Not for Long