With Apple spending around $9 billion on original content in the lead-up to Apple TV+ (which launched here on November 2) and Netflix even more on its own series and movies over the past year, there's been a lot of focus on streaming services' moves to create and control their own content.

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But a parallel development has seen ever-escalating amounts paid for five-year deals on reliable classics, often made by others - especially those that appeal to Gen X (a lot of Millennials simply never got into the TV habit to fall in love with the likes of Ross and Rachel to begin with).

All US$. Source / Bloomberg
All US$. Source / Bloomberg

Bloomberg reports that in the last few months, entertainment companies have spent nearly $US2.5 billion on the streaming rights to old TV shows.


It's a mix of streaming services paying huge amounts for rights to evergreen sitcoms, or TV networks forgoing hundreds of millions in payments from the likes of Netflix to grab rights - the better to use the content for their inhouse streaming efforts.

NBC paid US$500 million to take its own sitcom, "The Office," off Netflix and put it on its upcoming streaming service, Peacock. HBO also snatched a sitcom from Netflix, paying US$450m to bring "Friends" to HBO Max. It then dropped even more money, US$1b, for "The Big Bang Theory" while Netflix, not to be outdone, shelled out US$500m million for "Seinfeld."

Seinfeld's Kramer. Photo / File
Seinfeld's Kramer. Photo / File

Now, the theory is that the winner of the streaming wars will be the service that offers the best mix of groundbreaking originals and beloved classics.

Given the billions that both lines of content cost, streaming services are trying to become as big as possible, as soon as possible.

And we're going to see even more debt (Netflix is currently in the red to the tune of US$12b and counting) as the land grab continues amid heavy discounting of monthly subs.

Local players are already reacting to this cheap, globalised entertainment content.

Sky, which had to surrender its two Disney channels as Disney+ arrived in NZ - and which must have a wary eye on HBO Max, due to launch in May next year - sensibly concentrated its firepower on rugby and netball rights.

Spark has put Lightbox on the block, and has similarly thrown most of its effort behind its sports platform - sport being an area where Netflix shows no interest (even if Amazon's Prime Video has started to nibble around).


TVNZ says it will screen more free-to-air sport and more local content as it sinks a projected $17m into the red next year.

And MediaWorks' owner has thrown in the towel and put its TV operation up for sale.