Netflix-Warner Bros. deal bundles old and new niche dramas

Netflix iPhone 5

While HBO outbids it for big studio features, Netflix continues to scoop up whole catalogs of TV dramas for a lot less money. Netflix's latest little deal is with Warner Bros. — not the movie studio but its television division — giving it exclusive streaming rights to completed seasons of the J.J. Abrams-produced Revolution (a big debut on NBC last year), 666 Park Avenue (another just-canceled ABC "supernatural thriller" trying to recapture Lost's early magic), and basic cable entries Political Animals and Longmire. Warner Bros. is also licensing the full runs of The West Wing (already streaming on Netflix), Chuck, and Fringe, plus Fox's not-yet-aired Kevin-Bacon-chases-a-serial-killer drama The Following.

Netflix's long tail gets longer

For Netflix, the common thread to this handful of series is simple: niche audiences plus binge watching equals happy subscribers, for a fraction of the money paid for summer blockbusters. "Through deals like this, Netflix is making the production economics right for the continued creation of the kind of compelling serialized dramas and thrillers that our members love," says Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos in a press release.

For Warner Bros. and other studios optioning series to Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, or elsewhere, the equation is even simpler: a kind of instant syndication that helps support relatively expensive series, whether they go the distance or not. Offering whole seasons has the added benefit of helping new or intermittent viewers catch up in a hurry, helping ensure that the shows find the audience to help them go the distance, or maybe even become the next Breaking Bad. "SVOD [streaming video on demand] has become an important window for our serialized dramas, allowing viewers a chance to discover a series that before might have been intimidating to tune into mid-run," said Bruce Rosenblum, President of the television group at Warner Bros. The deal is also timed with the Television Critics Association's big trade show, offering a double opportunity for the studio to promote its new shows.

TV's new future: nothing is a la carte

Bundling hot and not-so-hot series into limited exclusives offers a little sweetener for both parties: Netflix's long tail gets longer, and the company gets a teeny advantage over Amazon, Redbox, and other competitors. Netflix subscribers are primed to turn to the service for serial entertainment, supporting its exclusive series like House of Cards and Arrested Development. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. gets a little bit more money — and more and more, digital television moves towards an economy where nothing, nothing is a la carte.

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