It's difficult to imagine that Friends, a show that ended 15 years ago, could be of any real importance to a modern streaming giant like Netflix.

In fact the sitcom, which features a bunch of 20-somethings living together in a time before streaming was even invented, is US Netflix's second-most watched show.

Today, Netflix announced that it's poised to lose its rights to broadcast the series to its original parent company, Warner, which plans to launch its own streaming service, HBO Max in the first quarter of 2020.

The blow follows another announcement in June that Netflix's number one series, the US version of The Office, is also being snatched back by its creators, NBCUniversal, to be broadcast exclusively in the US on its own yet-to-be-launched streaming service.


Old media, analysts are noting with no small amount of surprise, is suddenly bringing the fight to Netflix, and it looks like Netflix could be the one that gets knocked out, or at least very knocked around.

It's not just Warner and NBCUniversal that are preparing to rip content away from Netflix. The company also relies on its cache of movies to attract and retain subscribers. This carrot will disappear when Disney launches its new streaming site Disney+ in November, and corrals the rights to its own movie behemoths that currently live on Netflix including The Avengers and Marvel franchises and the entire Pixar catalogue. Frozen, Aladdin and Moana? All Disney. And all about to disappear from Netflix, at least in the US.

"Netflix built its business on the back of other companies' content," wrote Stephen McBride at Forbes. "It worked incredibly well … but that world is now gone."

It's fairly clear what this brave new world of old school media will mean for consumers in the US. The days of easy aggregation under a single subscription fee to Netflix are over. They'll instead face a huge choice of subscription streaming services in addition to existing ones like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and will have to pick and choose which ones best suit their personal needs.

Disney+ will cost US$6.99 per month for American subscribers and HBO Max will reportedly cost more than US$15 a month.

It's not yet entirely clear what the emergence of the new players will mean for Australian viewers.

Both Disney and HBO content are scattered across various existing services in Australia — there are bits of Disney on Netflix, Foxtel and Stan, while Friends lives on both Stan and Foxtel.

Disney+ has plans to roll out to the Asia-Pacific sometime between late 2019 and late 2020 but no definite dates have been announced and there has been no word on what this will mean for Disney content in Australia.


However David Sims, a spokesman for Foxtel, while currently licenses the main HBO channel in Australia, told "Foxtel has a very good, longstanding relationship with HBO that has served HBO, Foxtel and our customers well and we remain under our long term licensing agreement with them.

"Friends has been available to enjoy on Foxtel as part of our agreement with Warner for several years and will continue to air as part of our programming line-up."

Things look to be similarly unchanged at Stan.

"Stan will continue to be the exclusive streaming home of Friends in Australia and Disney continues to be an important content partner," said a Stan spokesperson.

What is certain, however, is that Netflix's best chance at survival is through its own, branded content, including shows like Stranger Things and The Crown. It would explain why the company is reportedly spending US$15 billion on original content in 2019, with plans to up that to US$17b in 2020, according to analysts.

All that extra content has to be good for consumers everywhere, even if they'll have to splash out more than ever to access all of it.