In the wake of recovering from its period of void checks, the streaming industry has resorted to a tried and true method of generating revenue: licensing television series and films to other platforms.

Considering that it is the year of Suits, acquired shows are among the most-viewed content on streaming services, and high-episode-count shows aid in retaining users within a streamer’s ecosystem.

The backlash that ensues when streamers eliminate shows for the purpose of tax write-downs or other cost reductions is equally dependable. This includes both original content that never seemed to have a chance at finding an audience, such as Disney+ and Hulu’s elimination of Willow and Y: The Last Man this year, and signature series like HBO’s Westworld that was removed from Max last year.

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The perception that streamers are mercilessly reducing the number of movies and series available to users while simultaneously increasing subscription rates is fueled by significant content removals. However, the data demonstrates otherwise. An analysis by streaming aggregator Reelgood reveals that among the seven largest subscription video-on-demand services, Amazon’s Prime Video is the only one whose library has experienced a reduction in size from January 2021 to October 2023. However, it is important to note that Prime Video’s library continues to be significantly larger than those of its competitors. Net gains were recorded by Netflix, Peacock, Hulu, Max, Disney+, and Paramount+ in their libraries during the specified time period.

However, those headline figures fail to provide a comprehensive picture. According to the Reelgood study, Paramount+ nearly tripled the number of titles available to subscribers from January 2021 to October 2022, from 1,199 programs and films to 3,030. However, in the past year, that number has been reduced by nearly half. Since its inception in January 2021, Peacock, which was only six months old, has been the most aggressive in adding titles, expanding its catalog by nearly 4,000 films and programs.

Even Max, the archetype of ruthlessly reducing its offerings, has a slightly larger library than it did a year ago (with one proviso, however). According to Reelgood’s analysis, the Warner Bros. Discovery-owned service has reduced its film library by 15% (390 films) over the past year, while its TV catalog has more than doubled in size (from 667 shows to 1,365) as hundreds of shows from Discovery and its sibling networks have been added.

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Netflix’s current size would not have been possible without its inception as a repository for episodes of non-traditional network programs. This historical foundation of streaming is reflected in library programming. The company disclosed in a massive data release containing information on all of its programming from the first half of 2023 that licensed series and films comprised 45% of time spent on the service during that time period.

This number is even greater across the broader streaming landscape, according to former ABC and NBC research and scheduling executive Mitch Metcalf, who now leads the media consulting firm MEI. Nearly three-quarters of streaming time was devoted to licensed programs and films, according to Metcalf’s analysis of 22,000 streaming titles monitored by Nielsen in October and November.

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Metcalf observes that the majority of that viewership is concentrated at the top: Nielsen estimates that the 1,000 most popular titles, which comprise less than 5% of the total library in the United States, occupy approximately 70% of all viewing time on streaming services. “Nearly half of them received almost no viewership; they barely registered,” he explains. “To begin with, what exactly are you intending to provide? What do individuals in fact consume? One-half may be removed from the table.”

Additionally, Netflix’s own data from December 12 point in that direction: More than 3,800 titles (approximately 21 percent of the total) out of more than 18,000 titles for which it provided data accumulated less than 150,000 hours of viewing in the course of six months, despite having 238 million users worldwide as of the end of the second quarter.

Notwithstanding this, niche programming remains viable: Free, ad-supported services such as Tubi, The Roku Channel, and Pluto TV have been expanding by offering obscure programming for advertising against it in exchange for relatively inexpensive licensing fees. “Thereafter, it becomes a commercial enterprise,” Metcalf declares. “By satisfying a demand and receiving compensation, you fulfill the desires of an advertiser by providing an audience with a show they are interested in attending.”

He laughs and further states, “It has echoes of broadcast and cable.”

They are also licensing to Netflix as the walled-garden model that other streamers have implemented begins to wane. This is a throwback to an earlier era in the industry. Suits debuted on Peacock a few years prior to its meteoric rise to prominence on Netflix; HBO classics such as Band of Brothers and Six Feet Under have also experienced an increase in viewership since Max began sharing rights with Netflix. “It’s a reflection of our recommendation system and our strengths,” co-CEO of Netflix Ted Sarandos told reporters on a call on December 12. Netflix will not, however, become a seller in the near future. He stated, “I do not know whether it would occur in reverse.” “I believe that licensing content can add value; however, I am uncertain whether this is reciprocal.”


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