Later this month, AMC (NASDAQ:AMCX) will air the final episode of its hit TV series, Breaking Bad. Although the show is coming to an end, it won't be the last time fans get a chance to see some of their favorite characters on live TV.
Bob Odenkirk will reprise his role as Saul Goodman in the spinoff series Better Call Saul. Given how successful Breaking Bad has been for AMC, Better Call Saul should -- right from the get-go -- have a dedicated fanbase. That will help AMC as it continues to focus on original programming.
But more interesting is what the spinoff says about Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), and the increasingly important role it plays in the larger TV industry.
Netflix was ready to pounce
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix was ready to buy the rights to the show if AMC decided to pass. In light of Netflix's recent foray into original programming, that report is hardly surprising. Netflix doesn't release viewer numbers, so it's hard to say exactly how popular the series is among its subscribers. Still, given that Netflix was interested in the spinoff, it's probably fairly popular. It should be: According to critics, it's the best show Netflix carries.
But that relationship goes both ways. Breaking Bad's creator, Vince Gilligan, credits streaming services like Netflix for Breaking Bad's survival. He told Bloomberg that if it wasn't for video on demand, his show might've been cancelled a few years ago. Breaking Bad, as a highly serialized show, doesn't lend itself to casual viewing. Episodes generally start exactly where the last one left off, making it practically impossible to follow the series unless one has seen every episode prior.
Breaking Bad has steadily gained viewers over the years (Sunday's episode was the most watched in the show's history), something that likely wouldn't have happened if the show was developed in an era before Netflix. Variety's Andrew Wallenstein suggested that perhaps AMC should be paying Netflix to host its old shows -- not the other way around.
The market for original programming is heating up
The idea that Netflix -- a relatively new online service -- could challenge an existing network for content is certainly noteworthy. But it isn't just Netflix that's spending money on original programming.
Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), too, has started to buy shows. After putting 14 new pilots up for a vote earlier this year, the online retailer has said it will produce five original shows, including a comedy series starring veteran actor John Goodman. Bigger still could be Amazon's partnership with Chris Carter, the creator of the hit TV show X-Files. Carter is said to be working on a pilot for Amazon, a new, post-apocalyptic show called The After.
Right now, Amazon Prime is probably Netflix's single biggest competitor. Netflix's CEO Reed Hastings has been public in his criticism of Amazon's service, calling it a "confusing mess." As a subscriber to both services, I would tend to agree with Hastings on that -- even though it's been more than a year since he said it, Amazon Prime's browser interface remains difficult to use.
Yet, Amazon Prime might not be the only service Netflix has to fear -- other companies like Hulu, Outerwall and Microsoft have expressed interest in buying original programming.
Streaming services are becoming formidable
It's clear that the market for TV content is changing. While Internet services like Netflix and Amazon were once just ancillary distribution platforms, they've become fundamental to the overall TV complex, allowing highly serialized TV shows like Breaking Bad to draw in record viewers.
More important is their ability to bid for content. If a network like AMC could've lost a hit show to a company like Netflix, it suggests that the power structure of the industry itself is shifting. Netflix is becoming a more formidable competitor.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, AMC Networks, and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Microsoft, and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.