WarnerMedia has released new details about its forthcoming streaming service, HBO Max, and Friends will be one of its crown jewels.
Friends NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Friends is leaving Netflix. After months of speculation, WarnerMedia — which owns the distribution rights to the beloved hangout sitcom — confirmed that the series will depart Netflix in 2020 for a new home on HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s own (still forthcoming) streaming service.
All 236 episodes of Friends will stream only on HBO Max when it launches in the spring of 2020, the company announced in a press release detailing the service. The show will join a wide array of new and well-known shows, from Pretty Little Liars and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to original series from film and TV veterans like Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, 2016’s Ghostbusters) and Greg Berlanti (The Flash, Arrow).
HBO Max will also include access to HBO’s back catalog, although an HBO spokesperson told Fast Company that HBO Max will not replace its namesake network’s other existing streaming services, HBO Go and HBO Now. Instead, HBO Max will serve as a “distinct offering.” And unlike the two preexisting platforms, it will eventually also host thousands of hours of content from other WarnerMedia-owned networks, like Cartoon Network, CNN, and Turner Classic Movies. Warner has yet to confirm pricing for the service.
The move isn’t a total surprise: Earlier this year, WarnerMedia, hinted that it would soon revoke Netflix’s license to the NBC sitcom, in which six underemployed young adults live in lavish New York apartments and spend much of their time being best friends, relaxing at the local coffee shop, and falling in love (sometimes with each other). The series’ upcoming change of hands is a game-changing loss for Netflix in the evolving streaming wars.
After buying the streaming rights to Friends for $30 million in 2015, Netflix reportedly paid an additional $80 to $100 million in December 2018 to keep Friends on its service through the end of 2019. Analysts have identified the 10-season hit as among the most streamed shows on the platform, which is likely how WarnerMedia — and Netflix — justified the price tag.
Friends will precede The Office among Netflix’s soon-to-be dearly departed. In June, NBCUniversal announced that The Office would leave Netflix to join NBCU’s (also still forthcoming) streaming platform in 2021. As another one of the most popular shows in Netflix’s catalog, the NBC workplace comedy’s upcoming move is already a blow to the streaming service; add Friends to the pile, and Netflix is looking a bit wobblier than usual.
As the number of entertainment subscription plans increases and those services become more and more fragmented, so too does viewer anxiety around which content will end up where, and how much it’ll cost to maintain access to their favorite TV shows and movies. We already know, for example, that all Disney properties — including Marvel, Star Wars, and even 20th Century Fox’s The Simpsons — will become exclusive to Disney+, which launches on November 12. Additionally, Apple has its own streaming service in the works, on top of those like Hulu and Amazon Prime, already regular parts of many users’ streaming subscription bill.
Just like what happened with cable TV before it, we may soon return to a world in which all of our favorite shows live under different roofs. Is a new cable bundle, but for streaming, the way of the future?
n addition to library content like Friends and Pretty Little Liars, HBO Max will feature scripted originals including Dune: The Sisterhood; Tokyo Vice, starring Ansel Elgort; Cuoco’s The Flight Attendant; the Anna Kendrick comedy Love Life; and a Gremlins animated prequel series. Others are expected to be announced as the streamer continues to aggressively bulk up on high-profile new series to land subscribers.
HBO Max is expected to launch in beta in the fourth quarter of this year.
The entire Game of Thrones library will also stream on HBO Max, with creator George R.R. Martin also hoping his prequel series currently in the pilot stage could also wind up there. “Back in 1991, after a decade in television, I began writing a series of novels that I knew would never be filmed. A Game of Thrones and its sequels were too big, too complex, too dark, too sexy, with a cast of thousands, gigantic battles, massive castles, direwolves, ice wights and dragons. Too sprawling for a feature film, too expensive for television. I should have remembered, ‘It’s not television, it’s HBO.’ Working with HBO during the past decade has been a dream come true,” Martin said. “What they did could not be done, but they did it anyway. And now they are embarked on a new venture. No, they won’t be tying their shows to the legs of ravens as I suggested…instead they are launching an exciting new streaming platform that will carry all the great HBO programming around the world…classic old shows and thrilling new shows, including (I hope) a return to my world of Westeros. Sign me up!”
The bow of HBO Max brings into question other WarnerMedia-backed streaming services including HBO Now, HBO Go, CW Seed and DC Universe. Per sources, all will remain as-is — though that obviously could change over time.