Netflix Taps a New Source for Original Programming

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Netflix's (NASDAQ: NFLX) future depends on its original content strategy. Once a way to cut down on costs, Netflix originals are becoming vital as more and more of the service's content licensing partners announce competing streaming platforms of their own. It's no surprise that Netflix has lots more original content planned for the near future, including the recently (re)debuted Lucifer.

But in another way, Lucifer is an unusual choice for Netflix. Until recently, the program ran on Fox Corporation's (NASDAQ: FOXA) Fox network. Netflix rescued the show from the cancellation bin, and it did so right away.

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Streaming platforms to the rescue

This isn't the first time that a streaming service has revived a cancelled show. In fact, it's not even the first time Netflix has done this, but reviving cancelled shows has not, by and large, been Netflix's operating model. The company has increasingly focused on making sure that everything it produces is contained in-house, even going so far as cancelling programs that involved outside studios such as its Marvel superhero series.

And when Netflix has revived shows, it's tended to focus on long-dormant properties. Arrested Development became one of Netflix's first originals after being off the air for seven years. Another example, Fuller House, picked up over two decades after the Full House series' original run.

If Netflix is looking to revive recent cancellations, it will have plenty to choose from -- 65% of new shows are cancelled within one season, and even hits rarely stay on top long enough to go out on their own terms. In the 2017 to 2018 television season, more than 150 shows were cancelled. Most of them went out without much fanfare, much less a revival.

So unlike some of those prior reboots, Lucifer aired its final season with Fox just last year. It was not the biggest or the best Fox series, but Lucifer had an established following, and for Netflix, cancelled shows like this one may be looking more and more appealing.

Why is this happening now?

Right now, Netflix features a lot of content that originally aired on major networks like NBC and Fox, including Friends (NBC), The Office (NBC), and That '70s Show (FOX), to name just a few. But that may not be true for very much longer. CBS already has its own streaming option, CBS All Access. Walt Disney owns ABC, and the company is about to launch Disney+ on top of Hulu. Comcast owns NBC, which is also launching its own streaming service in 2020.

It stands to reason that these competitors will yank their best content from Netflix as soon as possible -- leaving the industry pioneer with its originals and not much else. Major network shows remain popular with many viewers, and their rewatchability is key for Netflix (The Office, for example, is reportedly Netflix's most-watched show). The best way for Netflix to get major network properties is to buy them from the cancellation heap and revive them.

A sign of things to come?

An existing audience is no guarantee of ongoing success, and it won't be easy for Netflix to replace fan favorites like The Office and Parks and Recreation with recycled cancellations. But at the very least, reviving shows like Lucifer gives Netflix a viable path to leverage the effort major networks have already put into the content.

As successful as Netflix's original content strategy has been, it still doesn't have a property quite like The Office or intellectual property that can match Marvel Studios. Netflix may never have these things, but beggars can be choosers if they know where to look. The company can at least keep an eye out for ongoing opportunities to pick up network programs (and lure in their fan bases), and that's the start Netflix needs to fill the content void competitors will be leaving it with as competition in the streaming industry heats up.

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Stephen Lovely owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool is short shares of CBS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.