When Ryan Murphy began working with 21st Century Fox Inc. in 2003 on the medical drama “Nip/Tuck” on FX and later “Glee” on the company’s namesake network, Netflix Inc. was six years into disrupting the DVD rental business and had just posted its first profit.
Fox FOXA, +1.12% was in its second season of airing “American Idol,” the No. 2 and 3 show that year — “American Idol” aired on two different nights — according to Nielsen data.
But power is shifting to streaming services, which have direct lines to the viewers that networks and show creators like Murphy are trying to reach.
Earlier this week, Murphy and his production company signed a five-year deal with Netflix NFLX, +5.36% worth a reported $300 million. Murphy has a few months left on his current deal with Fox.
“Emboldened by the success of original programming, Netflix has now become the actual studio making original programming,” wrote BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield in a blog post. “It appears that Netflix may be moving toward its next inflection point, as content increasingly shifts toward internally produced projects created by the biggest names in television.”
Last August, Netflix wooed “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” creator Shonda Rhimes away from Walt Disney Co.’s DIS, +0.55% ABC network. The streaming giant has also inked deals with “War for the Planet of the Apes” director Matt Reeves, “Orange Is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan and “Stranger Things” producer Shawn Levy.
Netflix’s recent focus on signing exclusive production deals with creators is a departure from the third-party licensing model that helped it grow its subscriber base. Netflix is still committed to buying series from third-party producers, but Greenfield expects the mix to shift meaningfully.
The company’s ramped push into original content came as networks began questioning whether they should continue licensing their content to Netflix.
Increasingly, the belief is that TV networks and legacy media companies need to invest in a streaming service to survive. Disney announced plans last year to launch its own streaming service in 2019, and in doing so will pull all of its content from Netflix.
As this happens, the competition for talent and intellectual property has intensified. Netflix’s deals with Murphy and Rhimes are a testament to that.
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“Just as we moved from second-run content to licensed originals and then to Netflix-produced originals, we are progressing even further up the value chain to work directly with talented content creators,” Netflix management said in its 2017 third-quarter letter to shareholders.
But this shift isn’t exclusive to Netflix, Greenfield points out.
Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, +0.02% paid a reported $250 million for the rights to a “Lord of the Rings” series, and recently signed Sharon Horgan to an exclusive overall deal. Horgan co-created and stars in Amazon’s comedy series “Catastrophe.”
Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.09% which is fairly new to the landscape, shelled out upwards of $1.25 million per episode, according to the Hollywood Reporter, to nab Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s upcoming morning-show drama.
But it’s increasingly expensive, as these deals indicate, to acquire the talent and content necessary to be successful.
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Netflix plans to spend close to $8 billion on content in 2018, and another $2 billion on marketing that content. So the company, which is already swimming in debt, will have to tap high-yield markets again to fuel its expensive, but necessary, investments.
This all puts a lot of leverage on the side of creators. Murphy reportedly said during the TCA press tour in January that he had concerns about Disney’s $52.4 billion bid to buy Fox, and what that would mean for his creative freedom. A month later, he’s out the door.
“The challenge facing the legacy media companies who own film and television studios is that they do not own their greatest assets, meaning the talent itself,” Greenfield wrote. “We sense the tech platforms have all realized that you do not need to spend up to buy studios, when all you need to be a major player in Hollywood is money — a lot of money — to acquire talent and produce content yourself.”
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