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Are The Office and Friends bets paying off for Peacock and HBO Max?

Two shows, $1 billion, one simple strategy

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Image: NBC

In mid-2020, Friends moved to HBO Max exclusively. On January 1st, 2021, The Office made a similar move, leaving Netflix to stream solely on Peacock. The shows, whose moves cost a combined $1 billion roughly, were designed as anchors for the new streaming platforms: they would bring subscribers in and keep them subscribed.

Neither WarnerMedia nor NBCUniversal has given hard insights into how much Friends or The Office have driven subscriptions or retention, but new data from research firm Antenna provides some interesting context about the latter show. Here are the basics: The Office arriving on Peacock drove more signups than the nationwide launch, including a notable uptick in people signing up for the $10-a-month premium plan that allows them full ad-free access to all nine seasons.

While sales of The Office on iTunes also saw an increase, Antenna’s team noticed a much bigger addition to Peacock subscribers than overall digital purchases. Peacock has grown to 33 million users. That’s 7 million more than the 26 million figure NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell reported on December 8th, 2020. (It’s unclear how many of those users are paying the $10 ad-free premium plan or are streaming for free.)

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

The Office seemingly performing well for Peacock, a relatively new streaming platform compared to Netflix or Hulu, isn’t surprising. It remained the most watched show on Netflix for several years before leaving. Shell told analysts on a Comcast earnings call at the end of January that viewership of The Office on Peacock was far outpacing viewership on Netflix. (Although he didn’t provide any data to back that up.) A streaming service can’t rely on just one show, though, and Shell said it’s the supplementary effect of The Office landing on Peacock that makes them feel confident in the streaming bet.

“We’re seeing people who are watching The Office on Peacock are watching lots of our other comedies,” Shell told analysts. “It’s really driving Parks & Recreation and really driving Brooklyn Nine-Nine, amongst others. It’s kind of an ecosystem.”

In the United States, audience demand and interest in The Office increased once it left Netflix. Demand for the show was 39 percent higher within the first three days that it was on Peacock compared to the last day it was on Netflix, according to Parrot Analytics. Over the first 20 days the show was on Peacock, it maintained an increased demand. This indicated that “the rediscovery of this show by new audiences could be driving a longer term resurgence,” according to Wade Payson-Denney, an insight analyst at Parrot Analytics.

Friends is a little less clear. WarnerMedia announced back in July 2020 that Friends was the most watched show on HBO Max, with The Flight Attendant coming in second and The Big Bang Theory in third, but it didn’t provide any data, making those statements effectively moot. Still, HBO Max has also seen subscriber growth, with 17.2 million activations by January 2021, nearly doubling figures announced in October 2020. While most of that growth is likely more attributable to Wonder Woman 1984’s premiere, subscribers may stick around for Friends and other library programming.

Friends and The Office are perfect examples of “snackable TV.” They’re comfort programs that people return to time and time again. In 2019, Nielsen found that 72 percent of time spent watching Netflix was devoted to library programming, with The Office and Friends topping the list. Even if Friends and The Office aren’t always primary drivers, they may do their job of keeping people who sign up to watch Wonder Woman 1984 or Premier League games. If Friends and The Office keep people from canceling, they’ll have done their jobs. This is a similar philosophy behind Disney’s decision to add Star (bringing shows like How I Met Your Mother and 24) to its Disney Plus service in certain international markets.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that having The Office and Friends leave Netflix has had little impact on Netflix’s business, according to Antenna. While some Netflix subscribers who signed up for Peacock in January 2021 canceled Netflix to switch over to Peacock, the number was so low that it had little impact on Netflix’s business.

Turns out, people are more than willing to supplement their Netflix subscriptions with one or two others. That’s good news for quite a few companies. The remaining question is how many people keep their Peacock and HBO Max subscriptions all year-round. The streaming wars are not-so-secretly the “churn wars.”