Net­flix ac­quires the global rights to ‘Se­in­feld’ with five-year deal

The Morning Call - - ENTERTAINM­ENT NEWS - By Stephen Battaglio

Net­flix has fired back in the bat­tle for pop­u­lar net­work sit­coms by land­ing the global stream­ing rights to “Se­in­feld.”

The deal struck with Sony Pic­tures Tele­vi­sion, which con­trols the dis­tri­bu­tion of “Se­in­feld,” will be an­nounced Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­nies.

Net­flix will of­fer all 180 episodes of “Se­in­feld” in the U.S. and to most of its 151 mil­lion sub­scribers through­out the world when the five-year pact takes ef­fect in 2021.

“‘Se­in­feld’ is a one-of-a-kind, iconic, cul­ture-defin­ing show,” Sony Pic­tures Tele­vi­sion Chair­man Mike Hop­kins said in a state­ment to the Los An­ge­les Times. “Now, 30 years af­ter its pre­miere, ‘Se­in­feld’ re­mains cen­ter stage. We’re thrilled to be part­ner­ing with Net­flix to bring this beloved se­ries to cur­rent fans and new au­di­ences around the globe.”

Land­ing “Se­in­feld” is a ma­jor come­back state­ment for Net­flix, which re­cently lost the stream­ing rights to “The Of­fice” and “Friends” to the me­dia con­glom­er­ates that own those shows. “The Of­fice” will be part of NBCUniver­sal’s new stream­ing ser­vice, while “Friends” will be of­fered on Warn­erMe­dia’s up­com­ing HBO Max plat­form.

Terms of the trans­ac­tion were not dis­closed, but since the rights are for world­wide dis­tri­bu­tion, Net­flix paid far more than the $500 mil­lion NBCUniver­sal paid for “The Of­fice,” and the $425 mil­lion Warn­erMe­dia shelled out for “Friends,” peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the deal said. Both of those five-year deals were for stream­ing rights in the U.S. only.

Hulu, which is ma­jor­ity owned by Walt Dis­ney Co., has the cur­rent do­mes­tic stream­ing rights to “Se­in­feld,” pay­ing $150 mil­lion an­nu­ally in a five-year deal that ex­pires in 2021. Ama­zon had the stream­ing rights in most of the for­eign ter­ri­to­ries that will be picked up by Net­filx.

“Se­in­feld is the tele­vi­sion com­edy that all tele­vi­sion com­edy is mea­sured against,” Ted Saran­dos, Net­flix’s chief con­tent of­fi­cer, said in a state­ment. “It is as fresh and funny as ever and will be avail­able to the world in 4K for the first time.”

For the next five-year li­cens­ing pe­riod, Net­flix topped bids from Hulu, Ama­zon, Warn­erMe­dia, NBCUniver­sal and Vi­a­com, which con­trols the CBS All Ac­cess stream­ing ser­vice since its merger with CBS Corp., ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions who were not au­tho­rized to com­ment.

The move was a blow to NBCUniver­sal, which had a long as­so­ci­a­tion with “Se­in­feld” and could have used the iconic show to help lure view­ers to its up­com­ing stream­ing ser­vice.

But Net­flix is said to have been par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive in pur­su­ing “Se­in­feld,” which is one of a hand­ful of durable, long-run­ning com­edy se­ries that ap­peal to sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of view­ers. “Se­in­feld,” which stars co­me­dian Jerry Se­in­feld as him­self go­ing through sin­gle life in Man­hat­tan with his solip­sis­tic pals, ran from 1989 to 1998 on NBC and ended its orig­i­nal run while still ranking as the No. 1 show in prime time, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen.

The other broad-ap­peal sit­coms avail­able on the stream­ing mar­ket — Warner Bros. Tele­vi­son’s “The Big Bang The­ory” and “Two and a Half Men” — are both ex­pected to go to par­ent com­pany Warn­erMe­dia’s HBO Max. Some TV pro­duc­ers be­lieve it has be­come fu­tile for Net­flix to bid against com­pa­nies that are pur­su­ing the rights for their own shows and essen­tially pay­ing them­selves.

The own­er­ship of “Se­in­feld,” pro­duced by the de­funct stu­dio Cas­tle Rock, is spread among sev­eral en­ti­ties, in­clud­ing Warn­erMe­dia, CBS, Se­in­feld and his co-cre­ator, Larry David. All will share in the rev­enue from the Net­flix deal af­ter Sony re­ceives a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age as the show’s dis­trib­u­tor.

Even 20 years af­ter “Se­in­feld” left NBC, the show’s re­peats re­main a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion on lo­cal TV sta­tions and ca­ble net­work TBS and have gen­er­ated bil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enue world­wide.

Ne­flix is al­ready the stream­ing home for Se­in­feld’s cur­rent se­ries, “Co­me­di­ans in Cars Get­ting Cof­fee,” and his stand-up com­edy spe­cials. The re­la­tion­ship was not a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in “Se­in­feld” go­ing to the ser­vice, sources said.

In its re­cent earn­ings call for in­vestors, Net­flix ex­ec­u­tives down­played the sig­nif­i­cance of los­ing “Friends” and “The Of­fice.” The Los Gatos-based com­pany has said it would have to even­tu­ally wean it­self from out­side pro­gram sup­pli­ers — a ma­jor rea­son why it in­vested $12 bil­lion on con­tent in 2018 and is in­vest­ing $15 bil­lion this year.

The “Se­in­feld ” deal should not be seen as a de­par­ture from that strat­egy, ac­cord­ing to an ex­ec­u­tive fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter. But the com­pany will con­tinue to li­cense shows from out­side sup­pli­ers when it’s seen as mak­ing sense for its busi­ness.

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