Streaming Deals With Its Own 'Transfer Portal’ Chaos (Bloom)

Netflix series 'Big Wednesday'
(Image credit: Netflix)

On Monday night, college football will crown a national champion in what certainly will be one of the year’s most watched TV shows/games. Meanwhile, an even more contentious college competition has been playing out for weeks. It’s the transfer portal, a recently introduced NCAA rule change that’s made it far easier for student athletes to move from one college program to another.

The transfer portal is transforming college football (see the reshaped USC Trojans, 11-3 under new coach Lincoln Riley, thanks to Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and 21 other transfers). The funny thing is, we’re starting to see a transfer portal develop in streaming video, too. 

Shows that started on one service or network are ending up somewhere else. Some are finding notable success in their new home. 

And with the entire industry shifting (and grinding) gears since April’s Great Netflix Correction, such transfers are likely to happen more and more. Production studios are seeking new homes for solid shows that didn’t quite hit, while distributors want sure-fire properties that come pre-marketed with an identifiable audience.

I was reminded about the potential for chaos this week when rumbles emerged around Season 2 of Wednesday, the hit Addams Family spinoff starring a delightfully morbid and poker-faced Jenna Ortega, with half the first eight episodes directed by Tim Burton. 

In its first season after a Nov. 23 debut, Wednesday became one of the most watched scripted series in Netflix history. But between the time Netflix bought the series and when it emerged as a giant hit, Amazon bought the show’s producer, MGM Studios. 

Whispers started when an immediate, near-automatic season 2 order didn’t promptly issue forth. Would Amazon keep subsequent seasons of Wednesday for its own Prime Video platform? Subsequent reporting suggests Netflix has locked down subsequent seasons, so Wednesday will keep dancing with what brung her. 

But such shifts already happening with other shows. Manifest built a loyal audience on NBC, but not a big enough one to remain on air with the broadcaster. Netflix picked it up, adding a sturdy new player in its lineup, while giving broadcast audiences another reason to look at streaming. 

Also read: Netflix’s No. 1 Show Today, ‘Manifest,’ Gets Canceled By NBC

Chances are good we’ll see an even bigger transfer success with Girls5Eva, the well-regarded comedy about a reunited ‘90s one-hit girl group, starring Busy Phillips and Sara Bareilles. 

The show debuted in 2021 on Comcast’s consistently malnourished Peacock, but after two seasons, it never quite found purchase there, despite strong critical reviews and a comedy-writing Emmy nomination for creator Meredith Scardino. 

So Netflix picked it up. Given Netflix’s huge global audience and targeting know-how, Girls5Eva seems likely to be a big hit on the Big Red N.  

In a different way, I’d bet Paramount Global wants to open a transfer portal on Yellowstone. Current season episodes stream on Paramount Plus after their broadcast debut. But the four previous seasons, catnip for latecomers catching up on the ratings juggernaut, are only available on Peacock. D’oh! 

The show was originally licensed out by a previous regime when Yellowstone was the biggest thing on the very small Paramount Network cable channel. Now Yellowstone is the biggest scripted show on broadcast and cable, period.

The new regime is making up for licensing out those older episodes by creating an apparently bottomless Taylor Sheridan Narrative Universe, with spinoffs, prequels, documentaries, and other vaguely Yellowstone-connected programming. Still, pulling back older episodes of Yellowstone would be big win for Paramount Plus, though Peacock could hardly afford to lose another popular show. 

Manifest and Girls5Eva might be special cases. Or perhaps they provide yet another argument for Comcast to get out of the Peacock business, and become an arms dealer selling its many, many movies and series to the highest bidder. 

That said, even successful streaming operations will start shifting lots of shows to new homes. Everyone is trying to figure out how to make more money fast, to accommodate Wall Street’s sudden insistence on profits over subscriber adds. 

For one thing, we can expect more quick cancellations, like the one-and-done cashiering of Netflix’s ghost ship horror story, 1899, barely six weeks after it launched.

It’s an expensive period piece out of Germany, so maybe no one else takes the wheel. But creators Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese previously produced Netflix hit Dark, and might find a safe harbor for more 1899 seasons somewhere else, a reversal of the usual transfer portal flow.  In this era, quick cancellations don’t have to forestall a second life elsewhere. 

One big opportunity for everybody will be to license older shows. Once a show sinks into the back catalog, even relatively new programs can quickly disappear from the algorithm’s viewing suggestions. They’re effectively dead to new audiences. 

Now those shows will have a new way to be discovered, or at least to make money. They’ll be repackaged for FAST services and bundled into themed linear streaming channels. Some of those services and channels won’t be owned by the same company. All of sudden, we’re getting a whiff of the traditional TV syndication business, repackaged for a new era. 

And as media companies figure out whether to keep those shows in their ecosystem, or cash in on that sweet, sweet licensing revenue, the transfer portal is certain to be reshaping streaming services, just like it has some college football teams. 

Oh, and one more thing. When studios start making more money through ad-supported services and the transfer portal, talent and their managers and agents will want a piece. When that set of discussions hits, perhaps we’ll need a TV version of college football’s equally disruptive Name, Image & Likeness deals, too. 

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!