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‘Narcos’ Deal Not Likely a Sign of New Netflix Syndication Strategy

'Narcos' Deal Not Likely Sign of New Netflix Syndication Strategy
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

When a streaming service loosens its exclusivity on a series and it ends up on another platform that’s never been in the syndication market before, there’s bound to be some questions.

So when five seasons of the Netflix original series “Narcos” begin airing on Pluto TV starting Oct. 20, what that means for Netflix must come into focus.

One clarification to note from the start: The drug-trade drama in question isn’t actually owned by Netflix. The streaming service licenses “Narcos” from Gaumont International Television.

Regardless of that distinction, the notion that the company could allow one of its original shows to be syndicated elsewhere would have seemed downright ballsy earlier in Netflix history. Part of the streaming service’s value proposition is the fact that its originals are exclusive to the platform subscribers are paying to access.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the sheer tonnage of original content Netflix has amassed has arguably earned the leading streaming service the right to flirt with dilution of that exclusivity. Why not let an older show air somewhere else free? There are so many other options, subscribers never even have the time to exhaust the catalog anyway.

But the syndication of “Narcos” does raise some interesting strategic questions for Netflix: Is this the beginning of a trend that will claim multiple titles or just a one-off experiment? How old does a Netflix original need to be to qualify for syndication? Would this extend to a series still generating new seasons? And would Netflix itself syndicate a show it actually owned?

The early evidence points to the probability that this is a one-off. For starters, it’s just a six-month deal, a time long enough for Netflix to gather viewer data but perhaps not long enough to do any damage. And “Narcos” in particular is already something of an outlier for the streaming service considering the series has already seen its exclusivity diluted in an earlier experiment.

Univision was granted rights to the first season to air on its broadcast network in 2016 in advance of its second season back on Netflix (a reversal of the common practice for networks to put their own first seasons of original series on Netflix to help drive sampling for an upcoming second season back on their own air).

Also note that “Narcos” is not Netflix’s first syndication rodeo. Comedy “BoJack Horseman” had its off-network rights sold by Debmar-Mercury to Comedy Central in 2018. But like “Narcos,” “Horseman” is a relic of an earlier era at Netflix, when the company didn’t secure global exclusive rights from a third-party producer.

Will we see more such deals? Probably, but not too many and all from that first generation of Netflix programming that has already grown long enough in the tooth to be of negligible importance to the company.