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Friends, once the second most streamed show, is about to disappear for five months

Leaving Netflix in January, and on HBO Max in May

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So no one told you Friends was going to go away. [handclaps]

As of January 1st, 2020, Friends won’t be available to stream on Netflix, and won’t be available to stream on any of the major subscriber-based streaming services for another five months. Between January, when Friends leaves Netflix, and May, when it premieres on HBO Max, the only way to watch the series is through actually purchasing individual episodes, seasons, or the collection through digital retailers.

Amazon, iTunes, and even YouTube carry all 10 seasons of the show to rent or buy. Prices vary; right now, the complete series is listed on iTunes for $140, through third-party sellers on Amazon for $70 (physical collection), and on YouTube for $200 (or $19.99 a season). That’s much more expensive than Netflix’s popular $12.99-a-month plan. Both Amazon and iTunes often offer big discounts on the complete series, it’s just a matter of paying attention to when they happen.

If it feels more complicated than it should be to watch Friends, the second most watched show available on a streaming platform, that’s because it is. Before 2020, there were really only a couple of streaming services. Even then, Netflix carried most of the most-streamed shows from other networks. Friends, The Office, Grey’s Anatomy, Riverdale, Criminal Minds, and an assortment of Disney movies were all on one platform. On top of a steady stream of Netflix originals, $13 went a long way.

That was before content producers and distributors wanted their own platforms. Everyone licensed to either Netflix or Hulu. Now, Comcast (NBCUniversal), AT&T (WarnerMedia), and Disney want their own shows and movies on their own platforms. Friends is going back home to WarnerMedia. Much like how Star Wars is a reason for people to subscribe to Disney+, WarnerMedia is using Friends as a way to bring people over to its service. In order to watch Friends, people will have to pay $14.99 a month for HBO Max.

Friends is just the beginning. By 2021, Netflix subscribers who want to watch The Office — the most popular show streaming on any service — will have to sign up for Comcast’s Peacock service. Hulu subscribers who want to watch Seinfeld will have to go to Netflix.

Subscription streaming — and specifically Netflix — was supposed to solve the chaotic headaches cable caused. For a brief, glorious period between 2011 and today, it did. But now, while mega corporations like AT&T and Netflix fight over who gets to stream Friends, the real effect is felt by people who just want to come home after a long day at work and watch a bunch of Friends reruns.