EXCLUSIVE: The combined Hulu and Disney+ app for bundle subscribers will launch in March 2024 with a big new attraction — the Grey’s Anatomy library, which will be offered on a Disney streaming platform for the first time.
Hulu and Netflix, the longtime SVOD home of the venerable series, will share the co-exclusive domestic streaming rights to all prior 19 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, which is headed into Season 20 on ABC, extending its record as the longest-running primetime medical drama. The series will be available on both the bundled Disney app and the standalone Hulu service.
Securing Grey’s Anatomy for the foreseeable future is part of a short-term domestic content agreement between Disney Entertainment and Netflix — now being finalized — in which Disney is licensing 14 popular library TV series to Netflix on a non-exclusive basis for 18 months. The list includes Lost, This Is Us, Prison Break, Archer, How I Met Your Mother, White Collar, Home Improvement, The Resident, ESPN 30 for 30, My Wife and Kids, Reba, The Bernie Mac Show and the recent Wonder Years reboot.
During the 18-month window, the series will continue to be available on the Disney platform they are currently on (Hulu, Disney+, ESPN+) as well as other third-parties, SVOD, AVOD or linear, they have been licensed to.
The 14th show, The Hughleys, will become available to stream for the first time next year on both Hulu and Netflix. You can see a full list of the titles with their Netflix launch dates at the bottom of the story.
Disney CEO Bob Iger alluded to the deal during the company’s Q4 investor call last month, noting that Disney was “in discussion” with Netflix about “some opportunities” in the content licensing space.
The pact comes at a time of streaming resurgence for Grey’s Anatomy, which has been a Top 3 fixture in the weekly Nielsen ratings over the last couple of months, getting as high as No.2 multiple times and twice crossing the 1 billion minute mark.
Securing Grey’s Anatomy for the official launch of Disney’s “one-app experience” — whose beta version rolled out Wednesday for bundle subscribers — makes a statement and was important to Disney brass, I hear.
While not quite on the same scale, the move draws parallels to Disney’s efforts to make all Star Wars movies available for the launch of Disney+. Their streaming rights also were tied up at the time, so the company had to reach an agreement to make the films available on Disney+ within its first year of operation.
Much like Star Wars has been synonymous with the Disney brand since the acquisition of Lucasfilm, Grey’s Anatomy has been one of the company’s most recognizable global TV titles for the past two decades and the only current ABC hit whose library is not available on Hulu. (Last year, Hulu made a deal for the Warner Bros. TV-produced Abbott Elementary to share it with WBTV sibling Max.)
With Hulu also having in-season stacking rights to all ABC series, it will be the only streamer to offer the entire run of Grey’s Anatomy, with exclusive next-day availability of all episodes from the upcoming 20th season alongside the 19 prior seasons, shared with Netflix.
Hulu has been beefing up its library offerings, recently licensing such popular series titles from outside studios as House, 30 Rock, Schitt’s Creek, Living Single and Who’s the Boss, as well as two Disney-produced shows, New Girl, which had been exclusive to Netflix for years, and Moonlighting, making its long-awaited streaming debut.
The Disney deal also benefits Netflix, whose initial success was built entirely on licensed programming. The streamer likes the economics of the model and has done well with mainstay library titles such as Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore Girls, which have been Nielsen Top 10 staples, and previously The Office and Friends. On the heels of the massive success of Suits on the platform, Netflix has been looking for opportunities to license more well known (sometimes slightly forgotten) series, and most of the Disney shows on the list fit that bill.
“We believe this will deliver additional value for our members (i.e., engagement), as well as for rights holders who benefit from the increased awareness and revenue that Netflix delivers, in addition to the new life that success on Netflix can drive,” the company said in its Q3 earnings results in October, signaling its renewed licensing efforts.
After a push for exclusivity in the early years of the streaming wars, traditional media companies have gradually reverted back to a model balancing exclusivity and sharing content through licensing for an additional revenue stream amid a renewed focus to profitability.
“It’s the more natural state of the business,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said last week at the UBS media conference. “They’ve always built the studios to license. The unnatural state was, I think, the kind of forced vertical integration. So I think that there will be opportunities for us to license, and I think more than just opportunities.”
Multiple licensed series under the new deal, including Lost, Archer and How I Met Your Mother, had previously been on Netflix where they had done well before leaving the platform to stay within the ecosystem of their studios’ parent companies. (Years ago, Prison Break was available on Netflix in several international territories.)
“We’ve been licensing content to Netflix and are going to continue to,” Iger said on the Disney Q4 call. “We’re actually in discussion with them now about some opportunities, but I wouldn’t expect that we will license our core brands to them.”
He went on to specify what kind of programming the company would not be licensing.
“Those are obviously competitive advantages for us and differentiators,” he said. “Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars for instance, they are all doing very, very well on our platform and I don’t see why, just to basically chase bucks, we should do that when they are really really important building blocks to the current and future of our streaming business.”
Also held back are successful current animated series, like Family Guy, or classic titles, like Golden Girls, which have been exclusive to Hulu for streaming and have consistently done well, continuing to drive demand.
The 14 series included in the licensing agreement with Netflix come from various Disney TV production units. The vast majority of them have had successful original runs on broadcast/cable, which have ended, in syndication and, with the exception of The Hughleys, have also had exposure to streaming, so they have already brought in substantial value — and revenue.
Now they will look for new and wider audiences by expanding their presence beyond Hulu in the way NBCU’s Suits has found new viewers beyond Peacock and Prime Video once it was shared on Netflix earlier this year in a similar limited non-exclusive secondary window.
HBO also has started licensing some of its previously exclusive original series to Netflix. Like the Disney batch, most of them are well known, hit shows like Six Feet Under or Insecure but not part of signature HBO franchises like Game Of Thrones.
With its intricate, serialized storytelling, This Is Us appears well suited for a successful Netflix run. The streamer was actually among the bidders for the SVOD rights to the hit NBC drama, which Hulu landed in 2017.
Meanwhile, Netflix may look for lightning to strike twice with The White Collar, which was part of the same successful era of “blue sky” USA Network dramas as Suits.
The success of Suits on Netflix revived interest in the series, leading to a new Los Angeles-set offshoot series, as Deadline exclusively reported.
Sarandos referenced the Suits spinoff at UBS, noting that “we added a ton of value to that IP.”
Hulu and Prison Break studio 20th TV likely are hoping for a similar surge for the former Fox drama from the added Netflix run since, as Deadline reported exclusively, a new Prison Break installment is in the works at Hulu.
The Disney-Netflix deal starts a new chapter for Grey’s Anatomy, whose influence has transcended its own success. It was one of the first broadcast series to hit it big on Netflix, opening the door for others to find new audiences on streaming. The strong performance of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix also played a major part of the streamer’s pursuit of series’ creator Shonda Rhimes, whose pact there brought a seismic change to the TV overall deal business.
The medical drama’s continuous popularity on Netflix has exposed it to new generations of fans who discover it and stick with it. That likely has helped the series’ longevity as it remains a top ratings draw on ABC 19 seasons in. (But that also had kept Grey’s Anatomy exclusive to Netflix for streaming as the platform’s deals for broadcast series typically expire several years after the end of their network run.)
Last season, Grey’s ranked as the No. 1 broadcast drama among Women 18-34 and finished among the Top 3 with Adults 18-34, Women 18-49 and Women 25-54. The show averaged 9.6 million total viewers and 3.02 adults 18-49 rating after 35 days across linear and streaming, nearly tripling its initial Live+Same Day average viewership and shooting up a staggering +586% among 18-49.
Here is a list of the Disney series getting a Netflix window with the start date:
The Wonder Years: 1/1/2024
This is Us: 1/8/2024
My Wife & Kids: 2/5/2024
ESPN 30 for 30: 25 episodes; premiere dates vary between Feb-Dec
The Resident: 3/4/2024
White Collar: 4/1/2024
How I Met You Mother: 6/3/2023
Prison Break: 7/29/2024
The Hughleys: 9/2/2024 (also coming to Hulu)
The Bernie Mac Show: 1/1/2025
Home Improvement: 2/1/2025