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The Fallacy of the Streaming ‘Co-Exclusive’

When Young Sheldon debuted on Netflix in December as part of a “co-exclusive” arrangement between the streamer and the show’s owner Warner Bros., it scored 963 million minutes watched in its first week, and doubled to 1.8 billion minutes in the second—some 20x the minutes watched on Max the week before.
When Young Sheldon debuted on Netflix in December as part of a “co-exclusive” arrangement between the streamer and the show’s owner Warner Bros., it scored 963 million minutes watched in its first week, and doubled to 1.8 billion minutes in the second—some 20x the minutes watched on Max the week before. Photo: Bill Inoshita/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Julia Alexander
January 9, 2024

I probably don’t need to tell you that Young Sheldon is popular. The series was averaging 7.15 million weekly viewers on CBS last March—not bad for a sitcom in its seventh year. Its success on Max is a little more clouded without data, but considering The Big Bang Theory has charted on Nielsen’s Top 10 for Max, the recommendation algorithm likely spills over to its spinoff. But when Young Sheldon debuted on Netflix in December as part of a “co-exclusive” arrangement between the streamer and the show’s owner Warner Bros., it scored 963 million minutes watched in its first week, and doubled to 1.8 billion minutes in the second—some 20x the minutes watched on Max the week before, according to ratings journalist TV Grim Reaper.  

“Co-exclusive” is the new P.R. term of art deployed to describe not-actually-exclusive licensing arrangements between legacy studios, like Warners or Paramount or Disney, and pure-play streamers, like Netflix and Amazon. On some level, there’s an economic logic to these deals: Large media companies with barely profitable streamers and mountains of debt need to amortize their catalogs while paying lip service to their streaming brand. And if a title isn’t performing well on its own platform, why not syndicate it elsewhere and hope that renewed interest can juice value? (Let’s call that the Suits Strategy.)