Netflix may have to say goodbye to ‘The Office’ and ‘Friends’

"The Office" is popular on Netflix, but how long will it be available there?

Some of the greatest American sitcoms of our generation, from “The Office” to “Friends,” could be leaving Netflix, the Wall Street Journal reports.

As NBCUniversal prepares to launch its own streaming service, it has “begun internal discussions about removing ‘The Office’ from Netflix” after Netflix’s contract to air the show expires in 2021, according to the Journal.

When they aired, the shows were tentpoles of NBC’s prime time comedy lineup, and the network that birthed them may want to bring them home.

CNN reported in January that NBCUniversal will launch its own streaming service in 2020. At the time, NBCUniversal had said it would continue “to license content to other studios and platforms, while retaining rights to certain titles for its new service.”

That statement implied the popular NBC shows could remain on Netflix, but now that outlook may be changing.

Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about releasing its metrics on how many viewers are binging any particular show, but “The Office” and “Friends” are the shows fans spend the most time watching on the platform, according to the Journal story, and “The Office” wins that numbers race by a long shot.

Bao Nguyen, a spokesman for Netflix, clarified that “The Office” and similarly beloved shows available on the service rack up watch time, partly because of the sheer number of seasons offered.

For years, however, the service has been emphasizing its original shows and films, such as “Stranger Things” and “Bird Box,” in lieu of older TV shows or films for which it acquires rights. So in terms of the most widely watched shows, “Netflix originals accounted for 10 out of 10 in the last quarter,” Nguyen wrote in an email.

But even Netflix’s second-most show, in terms of minutes watched, is incredibly valuable: Netflix landed the rights to “Friends” at the reported price of $80 million or $100 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times.

The coming streaming wars

The high stakes discussions over “The Office” and “Friends” are just one more chess move as media giants set up their own streaming services.

Disney is launching a streaming service this year and WarnerMedia, the parent company of CNN, plans to launch its own service by the end of 2019.

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