19 FEB 2024

The comeback of content licensing

According to the latest research by Ampere Analysis, content licensing is set to grow again after four years, offering significant benefits for major studios.

19 FEB 2024

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After four years of major studios employing a walled-garden approach to the distribution of their TV content on streaming, licensing is steadily making a comeback, according to new research published by Ampere Analysis. The analysis focuses on the characteristics of studio TV titles licensed in recent significant deals, including agreements between Disney, NBCUniversal, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), and Netflix.

According to the analysis, Disney holds the most titles with licensing power, owning 148 that were still exclusive to its own streaming services as of December 2023, a potential licensing cache more than double the size of any other major Hollywood studio. Moreover, it reveals that the number of TV seasons cross-licensed between Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery's Max and Discovery+ more than tripled in 2023, while Amazon's overlap with studios' streaming services also grew significantly.

Rahul Patel, Research Manager at Ampere Analysis, says, "We expect more licensing deals for high-profile titles to be struck in 2024 between major VOD providers. Studios' strategies will need to carefully balance exclusivity and non-exclusivity to ensure their streaming offerings are distinct and compelling while also maximizing the value of their content as it moves to a second window. Licensing can expand the audience for existing assets, extend shelf life, and, at the more successful end of the scale, inspire franchise expansion. This was the case with NBCUniversal when it commissioned a Suits spin-off following its success on Netflix. Such an approach is particularly beneficial in the current climate when commissioners are being increasingly cautious with their content spend."

Across all four major studios' titles with licensing power, Comedy is the most common genre, accounting for 25%. This is driven by U.S. audiences' continued interest in a host of locally produced long-running sitcoms. Many of these ended their run long ago (including "The Office," "The Golden Girls," and "Seinfeld"), but some are more recent hits (such as "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"). The enduring nature of these assets is a desirable characteristic for streamers. Their sheer volume can keep audiences engaged for longer, making them a valuable subscriber retention tool. This is particularly the case as churning and re-subscribing to subscription services is becoming an increasingly common behavior.

These contents are also effective in generating ad revenue. 32% of Disney's reserve of identified titles are Children & Family content, making the genre a significant contributor to Disney's lead with titles like "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Hannah Montana." However, not all identified titles with licensing power will necessarily be cross-licensed. Six of the 20 most popular titles in Paramount Global's vault are in the "Star Trek" franchise. Studios were understandably reluctant to give up exclusivity for major franchises as they built their streaming services. But WBD's 2023 deals to license recently released DC-adapted content to Amazon, Netflix and Tubi demonstrate that even strategies around exclusivity for core IP is now changing.

Finding the ideal licensing partner is also a key part of generating content engagement. Several recent examples of titles that have seen a massive boost in popularity following transmission in a second window suggest that studios should seek licensing partners (like NBCUniversal's "Suits" on Netflix) with the most extensive user base and the smallest audience overlap. Ampere consumer data shows that 44% of viewers who did not watch Disney+ in the previous month did watch Netflix, making it the most used platform among this cohort, followed by Amazon and Hulu. These three platforms also top the list among viewers who did not watch other major streamers, including Discovery+, Max, Paramount+, and Peacock.

However, AVOD platforms Tubi and Pluto TV follow Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu as the most watched streaming services among viewers who did not watch Disney+. At 16% for Tubi and 15% for Pluto TV, this puts them ahead of Max, Paramount+ and Peacock. The prominence of AVOD services extends to other major SVOD platforms. Cross-licensing with AVOD platforms is more likely to skew towards unscripted content. The proportion of TV seasons shared between major studio-backed SVOD platforms that are unscripted is 29%. Still, of the TV seasons shared between ad-supported services and studio streamers, 46% are unscripted. Unscripted titles licensed to AVOD services are also more likely to be non-exclusive. Of the unscripted TV seasons shared with AVoD services, 55% appear on two or more major AVoD services, compared to just 36% of scripted titles.