Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) just added a cornucopia of new content, including fresh seasons of hit TV shows such as Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and The Walking Dead. The streaming service offers a plethora of choices for fans of episodic shows made for TV.
But it's not a complete catalog by a long shot. Here are three fantastic shows you can't watch on the streaming Netflix service today -- and why the company hasn't signed any deals for these shows yet.
Medical drama House, M.D. would surely be a hit on Netflix, with eight seasons of conniving backstabbery and curious medical cases to draw from. It's an award-winning and record-breaking hit that caters to a clearly defined niche -- a perfect fit for Netflix, right?
The show is currently not available in any kind of subscription streaming format. You can buy episodes from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Instant Video, where prices range from $1.99 to $2.99 per episode. Hulu doesn't have it, nor does Amazon's subscription service, Amazon Prime. So, there's clearly an open market slot where Netflix could offer House in a format nobody else supports.
But House is making big bucks for creator and distributor NBC Universal, now owned by Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), in the syndication market. A few years ago, NBC locked horns with iTunes over the show's pricing, when NBC wanted to collect $5 per high-def episode.
Netflix doesn't play that game. House may be a fantastic show, but the company will not overpay for the streaming rights. Until NBC backs off its high price demands, House won't make it to Netflix. By then, water under the bridge will have washed away much of the eyeball-magnet value of the show. In other words, don't expect Netflix to get this show until you don't really care anymore.
Here's another medical drama with serious market heft. While House was produced by NBC and aired on Fox, ER was produced by Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX.DL) Warner Bros. and aired on NBC. Oh, what a wicked distribution web the studios weave!
ER comes with 15 seasons of quality drama, and was the most Emmy-nominated show in history until Saturday Night Live stole that crown in 2010.
As with House, you can buy ER episodes from iTunes or Amazon Instant Video. There's no trace of ER on Hulu or Hulu Plus, and, of course, it's not available on Netflix, either. You can order DVDs, but who does that anymore? The DVD page is filled with customer pleas to add ER to instant streaming.
So, what's the holdup this time? You might suspect the Warner Bros production credit could be to blame, especially in the light of the next show on my list. But Warner is actually no stranger to Netflix: The studio has signed over streaming rights to a plethora of shows, including West Wing, 666 Park Avenue, Nikita, and Gossip Girl.
There's no back-rooms reason that ER isn't available to stream today. It's all about the money again.
The final box set of ER DVDs is only two years old. Warner still wants to monetize that asset. The show has never done well in syndication because you can't just jump in and out of the very serial story lines, but I'd imagine Warner is shopping it around to international stations.
This one could very well work in Netflix's all-you-can-eat model. You'll never miss a crucial episode when you can watch them all in any order, with no timetable to worry about. This doesn't make sense to traditionalists like Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes yet, but the evidence is stacking up.
I'll keep an eye out for ER on Netflix. This one could, should, and probably will happen at some point.
Which brings us to the hottest show in recent memory: HBO's Game of Thrones.
This one is available on -- you guessed it -- iTunes and Amazon, where you pay for each download. Hulu sends you over to HBO.com with a wink and a nod. And Game of Thrones will probably never, ever be available via Netflix streams. DVDs are, as always, a different story.
Game of Thrones is HBO's crown jewel, a prized possession that sets the cable channel apart from all comers. In particular, it's the kind of proven megahit with massive viewer numbers that Netflix can't produce (yet). Bewkes might let ER out of the henhouse, but not Thrones. It's a symbol of all that is right with HBO, while ER was always a side project -- a show produced for someone else, not tied to any of Warner's in-house brands.
Jeff Bewkes would rather build his own global streaming platform without cable tie-ins than hand this show over to Netflix. Maybe that's what HBO Go will become at some point, if that's what it takes to keep the premium content close to the vest. Ironically, that's still Netflix forcing HBO's hand.