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NBC and CBS’s new Peacock deal highlights how complicated keeping up with streaming will become

When to license and when not to license, that is the question

NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS have struck a new deal that allows a number of TV shows and movies from ViacomCBS’s library to stream on NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, Peacock.

Ray Donovan, The Affair, Undercover Boss, The Game, Everybody Hates Chris, Real Husbands of Hollywood, and more will be available to stream on Peacock when the streaming service fully launches on July 15th.

This part isn’t an exclusive deal. The aforementioned shows, along with other ViacomCBS series that land on Peacock, will also stream on their respective ViacomCBS streaming services, including Showtime and CBS All Access. ViacomCBS, a direct competitor to NBCUniversal, will keep its best IP — like Star Trek shows, CSI, NCIS, and The Good Wife — for its streaming service, CBS All Access.

(Disclosure: Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, is also an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.)

Films from Paramount’s library like The Godfather trilogy, Catch Me If You Can, The Talented Mr. Ripley, American Beauty, Patriot Games, Last Holiday, Fatal Attraction, The Firm, and An Officer and a Gentleman will also “stream on Peacock in limited exclusivity windows throughout 2021, 2022, and 2023.” That means although these movies will stream exclusively on Peacock for a select period of time, they can move to other streaming services before and after, like CBS All Access or Netflix.

Licensing deals! In a lot of ways, they’re very boring. In other ways, they’re why “what’s leaving and coming to Netflix” or other streaming service lists are so popular. Keeping up with what streaming service you need to watch a movie or a show is sometimes tedious. Take The Godfather trilogy, for example: ViacomCBS might license the trilogy to Netflix for a few months before giving it to Peacock, and then possibly move it to another service like CBS All Access. NBCUniversal also has licensing deals with Sony and Warner Bros., according to Variety.

There are two different core strategy moves from the major players in the streaming spaces: total exclusivity or licensing. The former is how services like Apple TV Plus, Amazon Prime Video, and, most notably, Netflix operate. When it comes to their original series and movies, the goal is to put everything in one place and offer it exclusively on that service. They don’t license out. The companies might have licensed content on their platforms to add as many offerings as possible, but Netflix isn’t likely to license out Stranger Things. The nice aspect of this strategy is that people aren’t left wondering where a Netflix show is playing — it’s only on Netflix.

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV Plus don’t have the decades-long library of IP that ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, and Disney do. Since the latter companies have huge libraries, they can license a number of their titles to other streamers for additional revenue while also building up their own exclusive originals offering. Disney licenses ABC shows to Netflix, for example, but uses its most popular brands as an exclusivity play on Disney Plus. Since Disney Plus launched, Disney has also worked to bring as many titles it licensed out (like some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that were streaming on Netflix) back to Disney Plus as exclusive offerings.

Licensing makes sense. Running streaming services is an expensive task that takes years for a company to start making a profit. Part of ViacomCBS’s strategy is to find “no risk” revenue opportunities for the company, according to CEO Bob Bakish, and a big part of that is streaming. That’s why a SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff is happening on Netflix, but all past seasons of Nickelodeon’s popular show will stream on CBS All Access. WarnerMedia also reportedly paid ViacomCBS $500 million to carry every season of South Park on HBO Max. It’s a win-win; ViacomCBS is able to earn additional revenue, and streaming services like Peacock and HBO Max can offer popular shows and movies to subscribers.

All of this impacts how we watch what we watch. As my colleague Chaim Gartenberg wrote last week, “With streaming catalogs continuing to shift and change over the coming months and years ... finding who has the rights to the movie you want to watch is only going to get more difficult.”