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Does Netflix’s $100 million ‘Friends’ deal mean the end of an era for online entertainment?



friends netflix

The Internet breathed a sigh of relief Monday when Netflix announced “Friends” would still be on the service in 2019.

After first noting that the landmark sitcom would be removed by Jan. 1, Netflix released a statement Monday afternoon that “The Holiday Armadillo has granted your wish: ‘Friends’ will still be there for you in the US throughout 2019,” referring to a one-off character. Netflix had renegotiated a deal with production outfit Warner Bros. and its parent company AT&T/WarnerMedia for domestic rights. The New York Times reported a price of $100 million — a whopping increase of $70 million from the current price.

And so it was that Joey will continue to ask how we’re doing while Chandler could not be any happier for the next calendar year.

But that sigh of relief could still yet turn into an anguished gasp for the many “Friends” fans out there.
Since Netflix began making “Friends” available in 2015, the show has been among the streaming service’s most popular. (At least anecdotally — Netflix releases data like Monica allows a dirty apartment.) And that means WarnerMedia, which has designs to launch its own streaming service next year, might well soon want the series for its own platform.

Might — it’s still not clear how this will all go. In fact, the whole affair could be a simple hiccup or a significant omen for content consumption in the years ahead, depending on the view one holds about the streaming landscape.

There are basically two ways to read Netflix’s “Friends” tango. The first is that Warner really doesn’t want to give up its golden ticket and would sooner keep collecting the sure millions for a library title (the industry’s euphemism for previously aired programming) than take a chance on putting an established hit on its own unproven streaming service.

According to this interpretation, the company really just wants to make enough noise to drive up the price third-party platforms pay; it doesn’t really want to pull the shows off these services. So this 2019 reprieve will be followed by more reprieves. “Friends” is safe on Netflix. And WarnerMedia’s own streaming efforts will be a business of largely lesser shows.

This view is articulated by the outspoken Wall Street analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG, who in an interview with The Post on Tuesday described what he saw happening with WarnerMedia properties such as “Friends” and others of similar A-list ilk.

“Nobody with a legacy business to protect is going all-in on streaming — they’re simply too scared,” Greenfield said. “They want to play in the old world to keep revenue and profit, and play in the new world and appease Wall Street.”
“Friends,” in other words, will continue, because WarnerMedia doesn’t have the stomach to pull the series.

As evidence, this camp — call them the legacy-firsters — cites AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson, who at the UBS media conference here Tuesday said future deals wouldn’t necessarily be exclusive, and Warner would keep some “Friends” episodes (he didn’t say how or how many) on its service in addition to making them available on Netflix.

(Nonexclusive! Everybody wins! Except it’s not that simple — Netflix won’t pay as much for that and WarnerMedia might not think the lower fee rich enough to cut into its own “Friends”-driven subscriptions. But that’s another story.)

The second camp — call them the balkaniziers — believes Warner and other conglomerates mean business. This is the more conventional Wall Street view and basically holds that the largest companies, particularly Disney and WarnerMedia, are not messing around when it comes to streaming. They really want all content off outside platforms so they can build their own services and shift their model to direct-to-consumer. Content will thus balkanize to numerous distinct streaming platforms, with almost no overlap between them.

Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson is among the many who think we’re heading that way. “We believe we are witnessing the evolution in traditional media thinking about SVOD strategies,” he said last year, using the acronym for streaming services. These companies want to “recapture some of the value transfer that has shifted to Netflix,” he noted. Or, in nonanalyst-speak, “sell their shows directly to fans.”

Disney chief executive Robert Iger has been among the most vocal advocates from within the industry. Iger has spoken often about “weaning” his company off the licensing milk of outside streaming services so it can sell its own shows. 21st Century Fox, which Disney is set to purchase, has already pulled hits like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Family Guy” (two shows that have nearly as much playability as “Friends”). And don’t expect “Modern Family” or other Fox-produced hits there either.

Not to mention, eventually, its franchise movies. Disney wants its own streaming services — its family-oriented Disney+ and its more grown-up-minded Hulu — to be the repository for all these established hits.

The legacy-firsters see this and think Disney is the exception (and won’t go all in on streaming in any event). They point to Comcast and Viacom, two conglomerates that have gone much slower, for various reasons, and say not much will really change. They’re skeptical WarnerMedia’s blood is cold enough to give up all this revenue.

On the other hand, the balkanizers believe that many of the big conglomerates will soon be selling their own shows for a simple logical reason: Even if it means some licensing losses now, direct-to-consumer is the future. Disney and WarnerMedia, they argue, are doubling down. And even conservative players such as Comcast and Viacom will eventually find their own ways in, resulting in their hits pulled from outside services, too.

Which of these two camps’ views come to pass will profoundly influence where we’ll get our content — and in turn whether many of us will think it worthwhile keeping Netflix.
If the legacy-firsters are right, then not much will change. Sure, original shows will eventually go to their respective platforms — Netflix shows on Netflix; Disney shows, such as Jon Favreau’s Star Wars series, on Disney; etc. (Netflix has in part been ramping up all its original shows in recent years in preparation for just this balkanization.) But we’ll still get a lot of library hits on these platforms. So, according to these folks, keep your Netflix subscription, beleaguered subscriber, for it has much of what you subscribed for. The service is the new cable, and will keep offering what cable has long offered us in its “bundle” — a wide variety of shows from multiple sources, all for one price.

But if the balkanizers are right, we’re headed to a very different world. A world where there isn’t one-stop shopping at all. You want to watch Disney content? You pay for Disney+ or Hulu. WarnerMedia series? Head to its service. Netflix shows? Go ahead, go to Netflix. But you won’t get much else. The biggest “Friends”-like hits, the ones you’re used to seeing there, are elsewhere. And that means we’ll either be paying for a lot of services or not getting much of what we want.

(It also means Netflix is going to have a lot of trouble holding on to its 57 million subscribers and spending the billions they currently do on content. But that’s another story, too.)

For now, the legacy-firsters hold sway, and we don’t have to pay for subscriptions all over the place to consume a wide swath of entertainment content. By 2020 or soon after, though, the balkanizers could be right. Streaming could fragment, much like cable did before it. The number of worthy services will multiply, but the amount of content on each will thin. In such a scenario, in other words, media could not be any more divided.


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‘Green Monday’ brings back some great Black Friday deals




green monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday were the best times to find deals on pretty much anything on your holiday shopping list. But retailers will always come up with another shopping holiday to tempt you. Alas, “Green Monday” is a thing.

Green Monday offers some repeats of Black Friday favorites — plus a few new deals. If you already accomplished the majority of your holiday purchases, there’s little reason to dive in, but it can’t hurt to make sure you’ve run through your checklist.

Here are the best deals that we’ve seen so far today. We’ll be adding more (and striking through items that are sold out) throughout the day.


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‘Gridlock Sam’ says driverless cars could impact urban sprawl




driverless cars

Driverless cars, known by the more scientific-sounding name autonomous vehicles, may change the shape of suburban development, according to Sam Schwartz, aka “Gridlock Sam” and a former New York City traffic commissioner.

Schwartz, who also is known as “Gridlock Sam” by virtue of his column with that title appearing in the New York Daily News, was the luncheon keynote speaker Dec. 6 when Pace University’s Land Use Center presented its 17thAnnual Alfred B. DelBello Land Use and Sustainable Development Conference.

Schwartz addressed about 250 developers, consultants, local leaders, attorneys and other professionals gathered at the Pace campus in White Plains. His firm, Sam Schwartz Transportation Consulting, specializes in transportation planning and engineering. Schwartz owns a house in Somers and is quite familiar with suburban driving, commuting patterns and traffic jams. His new book, “No One at the Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future,” looks at the inevitability of autonomous vehicles, the problems they may cause and the benefits they might provide.

In an interview with the Business Journal, Schwartz said, “Imagine someone from Westchester who works in Manhattan. The autonomous vehicle takes that person there; that person is at work at 9 o’clock and tells the autonomous vehicle ‘you know it costs $80 to park here for the day, why don’t you just drive back home to Westchester and wait until I tell you that I’m ready to leave.’”

In addition to doubling the number of miles traveled on the area’s roads as a result of cars making one leg of a round trip empty, Schwartz suggests driverless cars may encourage people to live farther away from urban centers.

“Suddenly the car becomes much more comfortable and you can get lots of things done, even sleep done in your car.” Schwartz said that Putnam and Dutchess and other counties “will be commuter areas and sprawl will increase to many areas that really can’t support it.”

Schwartz was only half-joking when he said that we’ve got to watch out for empty “zombie cars” taking over. “The traffic could very well get much worse because there will be more vehicle miles traveled, more cars on the road than ever before.”

The current interest among developers and municipalities in transit-oriented developments may help keep cars off the roads, Schwartz suggested. “Building town centers where you can walk and you have greater accessibility to local stores that’s terrific, but there is going to be a tension out there if we rely on the autonomous vehicle to drive us further and further out and encourage sprawl.”

He said there is a definite positive trend taking shape right now regarding traffic levels. “Younger people, millennials, are driving far less than previous generations. There’s a 20 percent drop in the amount of driving that millennials do compared to any other generation that came of age,” he told the Business Journal.

Getting to the train station is an area where Schwartz believes autonomous vehicles could have a big impact on life in the suburbs. They could “…take you that last mile or two or five miles to a train station to drop you off and pick you up when you come back.

Christopher B. Leinberger, chair of the Center for real Estate and Urban analysis of the George Washington University School of Business was the opening keynote speaker at the event. Councilwoman Emily Svenson and Planning Board Chairman Michael Dupree of the Town of Hyde Park received Groundbreaker’s Awards. Richard L. O’Rourke of the law firm Keane & Beane PC was the Founder’s Award recipient. The Distinguished Young Attorney Award went to Noelle C. Wolfson of the law firm Hocherman Tortorella & Wekstein LLP. Breakout sessions covered subjects such as smart growth, maintaining water and sewer infrastructure, land use law and environmental regulations.

Tiffany Zezula, deputy director of the Pace Land Use Law Center, told the Business Journal that the center stages the Alfred B. DelBello Land Use and Sustainable Development Conference to act as a facilitator for sharing information and encouraging discussion of new ways to plan, regulate and design communities. “We are an educational entity. We don’t take any positions,” Zezula said. “The Land Use Law Center is actually celebrating its 25thanniversary, so we are thrilled about that.”


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Why a D.C. bicycling group wants to charge cars to enter the city




washington area bicyclist association

Last week, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) issued a comprehensive — and potentially controversial — action plan for improving traffic safety in the nation’s capital.

The group is calling for congestion-tolling and other steps to limit the number of vehicles that enter the city, raising residential parking fees, banning right turns on red and requiring residents to take a drivers test again when renewing licenses. WABA also wants a lot more bike lanes — 25 miles a year of them, or about five times the current pace. Above all, the group called on the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and other city agencies to cut the red tape that has slowed the process of making the District’s streets safer.

The action plan comes as fatal crashes have risen this year despite the city’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths. It also follows a request by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) for big ideas.
We talked with Colin Browne, the association’s director of communications and one of the people who helped develop WABA’s action plan. The following Q&A has been edited for publication:

Q: Why did you come out with the report now?

The timing turned out to be a little serendipitous with the mayor’s request for big ideas. But over the course of the past year or so — and talking to folks about Vision Zero and our concerns about the status of the city’s progress — we kept sort of encountering, “What do you actually want?” There was a bunch of stuff that seemed obvious to us, but apparently isn’t, about what a better-functioning and safer traffic system looks like. So we started compiling a laundry list of stuff.

Q: What item or items on your list deserve the highest priority?

I think the most important one is right at the front: the whole decision-making process right now is just too slow and has a really strong status quo bias. It’s really hard to achieve anything.
Q: You urge the city to build 25 miles a year of new bike lanes, when the city’s on a pace to add only five this year. Doesn’t that seem wildly optimistic?

This is exactly the same problem. We have this ambitious multimodal plan that came out a few years ago called Move D.C. that calls for 80 miles of new bike lanes. In order to get to that goal, we were looking at a number like 25 miles a year.

If the mayor and the various different Vision Zero-affiliated agencies are serious about getting to zero, they need to address these structural problems.

We had this hearing back in September or October — a [D.C.] Council hearing — and it was quite moving: There were eight hours of testimony of people who were hurt or had family members who got killed trying to move through the city in one way or another. And the DDOT director was there, and his response to this emotional eight hours was, “Well, we’re doing everything we can.”

That’s a frustrating answer to begin with, more frustrating because we have not heard the mayor, or that agency, or the government writ large say, “What do we need to change to be able to do more, more quickly?” This is literally a life-or-death problem, and we’re not moving fast enough.

Q: What’s the bottleneck?

We have a few in the document here. But there are also some we just can’t see from the outside. There is some big wonky stuff. Are you familiar with the Level of Service planning methodology?

Q: Can you explain for folks like me whose eyes glaze over at phrases like that?

This is a set of parameters for designing and measuring how effective a road is that was built to ensure some standardization across the interstate highway system in the ’60s. So it’s about moving people very fast — moving cars very fast. It has crept into the way we plan our cities and our urban streets.

Q: So you’re saying the Level of Service metric requires planners to figure out how to move vehicles from point A to point B the fastest, correct?

Pretty much. So if you have these ambitious safety goals and ambitious sustainability goals citywide, those are in conflict [with LOS metrics]. But it’s just a planning methodology. It’s not written in stone.

Q: WABA urges the city to adopt instead a Vehicle Miles Traveled standard, as California has done. What would that mean?

Instead of measuring your street based on how quickly it’s moving cars, and sort of minimizing delay for drivers, you measure your street design based on how is this reducing driving. The least wonky way to describe it is, right now we build our streets to accommodate cars, and what we want is to build our streets to accommodate moving people.

Q: What kind of response have you received to the idea that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) should retest everyone who’s renewing a driver’s license? Why is this important?

I haven’t heard anything yet. There already is a lot of passive educational stuff that’s built in at the DMV. Our proposal is this is something you could do online. It shouldn’t take very long.

Especially in a region like this where we have a lot of folks who didn’t get their licenses here, if you have a transportation system that works differently than somewhere else, you need a way to make sure that people who are starting to participate in that system know the rules. This is a way to address that.

Q: WABA’s action plan refers to New York City’s relatively quick transformation of part of Times Square into a pedestrian plaza. Do you have a location in mind where D.C. could do the same thing?

I think we’d like to see spaces like that in a lot of different places. New York has some sort of cool, iconic opportunities like that; I think D.C. could use the same thing.

But the idea is that there is this big chunk of space between buildings, basically — it’s like the sidewalk, parking, the street. And all of that is public space, and it’s public space geared toward moving people. But it doesn’t have to be allocated the way it is. There are a lot of compelling reasons in a lot of places to make more space for people doing other things than driving.

Q: Are you thinking of the makeshift pedestrian plaza that has existed on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House since its closure for national security reasons years ago?

Yeah, that’s fantastic. That’s an interesting spot from a bicyclist’s perspective. But it’s great. There’s tourism happening there, but there are also people playing roller-blade hockey. The challenge there is, it is often closed without notice by the Secret Service. That space is both great but also problematic because the city doesn’t have any control over it.

Q: WABA says the city needs to restrict vehicular traffic in the city through congestion tolling. Do you have a model for that?

We don’t have a specific model. There are a lot of factors here that make it complicated — not undoable, but complicated.

We were really glad to see the Greater Washington Partnership put out a similar proposal a couple weeks ago. There are a bunch of different ways you could do it. London just has a line around part of the city and if you drive through it, it costs 5 pounds or something like that.

[If you’re] driving a single-occupancy car into the city, you’re taking up a lot of space, and you’re using a lot of shared resources. If you’re trying to keep a city sustainable and safe, it seems reasonable to assign a cost to the use of those resources.

Q: What would you say to those suburbanites who feel they have no other choice but to drive and that WABA’s action plan seems like one more way to soak them?

If you feel like driving to work or driving to get where you’re going is your only safe option, the system has already failed. We’re a major metropolitan area. People shouldn’t have to make a five-figure capital investment in an automobile just to get to work every day. That’s frustrating. That’s something that’s going to take some time to solve. But this is how we get there.

The other thing that’s important to think about that’s important is there’s a real difference between something that is unsafe and causes people to die, and something that is inconvenient and causes you to take more time to get where you’re going.

[Maryland’s proposed expansion of Beltway and I-270 ranks among top U.S. ‘boondoggles,’ group says]

Q: You mentioned the “bad transportation decisions” in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs that D.C. sometimes has to live with, and the action plan talks about how D.C. is often at the mercy of the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG). Can you elaborate?

I don’t have a specific example of where Fairfax County has said, “No, you can’t do that.” But a good example is a section of the planned Metropolitan Branch Trail. And it’s been part of that plan since the 1990s, and the trail is moving slowly.

There is a lot of stuff where the regional planning process is slowing down D.C.’s ability to implement things quickly. Some of that comes from COG, and I think some of that comes from caution on the part of DDOT.

Q: WABA also seems to be saying that DDOT gives in to NIMBYism too often. Can you explain what you mean by urging the city to reduce the influence of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions?

I don’t think that’s what we’re proposing. I think what we’re saying is the city is asking the wrong questions.

We’re seeing this play out up in Chevy Chase — there was reporting on it last year — where you have streets that don’t have sidewalks. That is an obvious safety concern that’s in complete violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the District’s Complete Streets policy.

DDOT shows up to those meetings, and they don’t say, “This street is unsafe and needs a sidewalk — how would you like to build it?” They say, “We’re thinking of putting a sidewalk here, what do you think?” And so they’re framing the question as, “Should we make this safety improvement or not?” — instead of, “We want your input on how we implement this safety improvement.”

Sidewalks should not be negotiable.

Q: The action plan calls for steps to reduce distracted driving. How?

If we had the answer to that in concrete terms we’d all be rich. It’s an endemic problem. It’s nuts.

I think there is an enforcement element to it. Because we’re not the federal government, the city has limited control over what it can say over automobile and device manufacturers. D.C. doesn’t have the power to say, “Your phone must turn off automatically when you’re driving in the District.” That’s a federal-level thing, unfortunately.

And enforcement is really tricky. Intentionally or not, if you end up with a situation where you have police or other law enforcement folks pulling people over, you end up with a situation where people of color and other marginalized communities are getting harassed more often by police.

My sense is that the way you solve this problem is, you give people better options. A lot of people take Metro because you can read the Internet on the Metro.

Q: What’s the price tag on all this?

Some of it is expensive, some of it isn’t. I don’t have a number, but we spend a lot of money on our transportation system already. We spend millions and millions of dollars rebuilding our highways, and a lot of this is cheaper than that. We talk a lot about reallocating space, and a lot of this is about reallocating the way we spend money on that space.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Enforcement is something that just comes up all the time with this stuff.

You can basically park in a crosswalk or a bus stop without consequences in this city pretty much anytime you want. Some of that is a design problem, and we need to be building spaces where it’s harder to do that. But the other thing that I think is really important is enforcement is going to be part of it, and it needs to be about changing behavior — not about generating revenue and not about punitive fines.

And so moving forward, I think the city needs to be investing some time and some resources in figuring out what is the enforcement activity that changes behavior — not what is the enforcement activity that generates revenue or that makes people feel bad.

One of the big ones that I’ve seen have success in some other cities is this notion of deferred disposition. If you get a speeding ticket, it doesn’t go on your record immediately. There’s a six-month grace period. And if you don’t get another one, it gets wiped.

The idea is this is an informational moment. Maybe you didn’t know what the speed limit was, or maybe you didn’t know you were speeding. Here’s an opportunity to change your behavior. It’s more important that you stop speeding than that you pay the city $100.


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