A media research analyst is warning that Netflix Inc. could see the defection of as many 750,000 subscribers in the U.K. with the loss of several older U.S. sitcoms and action shows that are owned by Walt Disney Co.. But is this warning accurate in its severity, or is it overlooking several key elements regarding both companies?
What Was Claimed
In an interview with the British media out The Guardian, Ali Vahdait, founder and CEO of Digital i, observed that Netflix has lost the streaming rights to five series that are owned by Disney—“How I Met Your Mother,” “Modern Family,” “New Girl,” “Prison Break” and “Sons of Anarchy”—and will soon be losing the rights to “Homeland.”
“The viewing to these six titles, five of which have already left Netflix, was significant in the U.K.,” said Vahdati. “This means a significant number of subscribers will begin to question their Netflix subscription and look to the new home of their favorite content, Disney+.”
Vahdati added that “Modern Family” was the most streamed Netflix show in Europe during 2020 and estimated that nearly 270,000 subscribers could be considered hardcore fans of that series.
“Our previous research showed that over half of Netflix’s top viewing was to major [Hollywood] studio content,” he said.
What Was Left Out
Vahdati’s analysis seemed to overlook several important elements related to Netflix and Disney+’s programming.
1) The eighth and final season of “Homeland” is scheduled to premiere on Netflix in February, so it’s unclear why Vahdati stated the streamer was losing that series.
2) None of the six series cited by Vahdati are Disney-specific productions. All of them are legacy properties the company inherited through its 2019 acquisition of 20th Century Fox. And as Netflix’s rights to these properties are mostly expiring at once, it was clear Netflix licensed them to build content. Unlike other streaming services tied to film and television libraries, Netflix started its operations without a legacy library.
3) Netflix is not lacking content. U.K. subscribers have four new English-language series to explore in February—“The Crew,” “Behind Her Eyes,” “Tribes of Europa” and the anime production “Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan”—along with non-English-language programming from across Europe and new film titles. Netflix is expected to spend more than $17 billion on content this year as it seeks out new audiences.
4) Disney isn’t going out of its way to celebrate the reclamation of the older shows. And in the case of “How I Met Your Mother,” which is now exclusive to Hulu, the company is spending its marketing dollars trumpeting a reboot of that property with “How I Met Your Father,” which is being released internationally on Disney+ and Star+. And for whatever popularity “Modern Family” had with European Netflix viewers in 2020, it paled when compared to the response to “Squid Game” in 2021.
5) Netflix has 14 million U.K. subscribers, the highest number for that market’s streaming sector, with Amazon.com, Inc. following at 12.3 million and Disney+ further back with 4.7 million.
6) U.K. viewers are not limited to subscribing to a single streaming service. That nation’s residents can have Netflix, Disney and as many services as they want. Thus, “Modern Family” fans with dual subscriptions will not miss a moment of Sofia Vergara’s curvaceous antics.
Thus, is Netflix at risk of losing 750,000 viewers with the loss of several older series? Probably not.
By Phil Hall
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