At a recent family reunion, I chatted with one of my cousins about our mutual appreciation for The CW’s Arrow and The Flash, but she warned me not to spoil anything for her because she only watches the shows on Netflix. For her, it’s actually a family activity. Wait for the most recent complete season to go up on Netflix, usually right around the time the new season is about to start, and then spend a weekend or so binge-watching it with the kids and husband. Rinse and repeat every year. To her, that is the more preferable option to watching episodes week-to-week as they air.
Well, cuz, I hope you’re reading this because a change is coming. According to Bloomberg, CBS and Time Warner, the co-owners of The CW, are considering launching a standalone streaming service for the genre-heavy network, and if they do they will likely pull The CW’s shows from Netflix and Hulu (or, to be more accurate, allow their current contracts with those outlets to expire) in order to build up demand for their own service.
This sucks! This is total b.s.! This…
Will reportedly cost as little as between two and four dollars a month, and, similar to CBS All Access, provide a live feed as well as a library of on-demand shows.
Huh. Still, why can’t they keep things the way they are right now? That would be so much more convenient. Also, this would be a total dick move on The CW’s part, especially considering how crucial Netflix and Hulu have been to the network’s bottom line ever since brokering separate streaming deals in 2011. The pact with Netflix was worth a reported $1 billion, and it arguably saved the perennially ratings-starved network, as Netflix chief Ted Sarandos argued at the 2nd Annual U.S. Media & Telecom Summit in 2012, “What’s important to note is that you look at programming at CW, Netflix license fees makes that content profitable. Without it, it was struggling along.”
But that was then, and this is now. Those contracts are all set to expire soon, and The CW now has its own digital content studio, producing CW Seed-branded shows like the animated Arrow/Flash spin-off Vixen and the Veronica Mars meta spin-off Play It Again, Dick. Netflix, meanwhile, plans to produce 600 hours of original programming this year, including at least 31 separate shows aimed at adults.
To the rest of the industry, Netflix has clearly become the giant monster they helped to create. With Sarandos predicting that the TV business will be entirely internet-based in the next 10-20 years, each major network is attempting to establish its own digital channel in time for the brave new future of everyone simply paying monthly fees for each specific channel they want to watch. As previously mentioned, CBS has CBS All Access. ABC is at least producing digital content exclusively meant for its WatchABC app. Fox is building up its own app, although since it is a co-owner of Hulu it might be content to continue licensing its content to them for the forseeable future. Then again, NBC also co-owns Hulu (along with Fox and Disney), and it’s still creating its own streaming service which will specialize in exclusive, original comedy programming. HBO (owned by Time Warner) and Showtime (owned by CBS) are both now available without a cable subscription. It’s not really surprising that CBS and Time Warner could soon add CW to the list of networks with a separate streaming service. At the very least, it’s not surprising that they are considering it. Whether or not they will actually follow through with it, though, remains to be seen.
There are obstacles that actually have nothing to do with either Netflix or Hulu, namely that all of those TV stations which offer The CW won’t appreciate being undercut like this. We’re not just talking about tiny TV stations in flyover states either. Tribune Media owns the stations that offer the CW in 13 major markets, e.g., Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. It just so happens that the 10-year distribution deal Tribune made with Time Warner and CBS back when The CW first started expires this August. That’s why, according to Bloomberg, “under the plan being weighed, owners of CW affiliated stations, like Tribune, would be compensated for allowing a Web-based version of the network’s programming to be offered in their markets.”
Then again, with so many contracts coming up at the same time this could be a negotiating tactic. Bloomerg’s sources were “two people with knowledge of the matter.” Maybe those two people were authorized to leak this story to gain leverage during re-negotiations with Netflix, Hulu and Tribune. I’d personally like to think so because for the sheer matter of convenience I’d prefer CW shows like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stay on Hulu as that’s where I watch them, and the back seasons of Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, Arrow and Flash to stay on Netflix to be revisited whenever I feel like it.
However, this all makes too much sense given the current trends in TV to be wished away as a negotiating ploy. In fact, even if this doesn’t happen now it will most likely happen eventually because the future of TV is everyone paying small monthly fees for each digital channel they want. The age of Netflix will inevitably transition into the age of countless individual Netflix chiefdoms (each network with their own online monthly subscription service), and we’ll look back with fondness at the time when they all used to be available together.
When exactly that will happen, I don’t know. However, I do know this – 2016 is a darn good time to finally watch The 100 on Netflix. It might be the last year you have that option.