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Inside the Blockbuster $600 Million ‘Big Bang Theory’ Streaming Deal With HBO Max

Cynthia Littleton

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As one of TV’s most popular shows of the past 20 years, “The Big Bang Theory” was sure to command a huge price when the streaming rights were finally shopped in a red-hot market for iconic comedies with large libraries.

But “Big Bang Theory” wasn’t shopped widely on the open market before the streaming pact with HBO Max and the four-year cable extension with TBS was announced early Tuesday morning. The reason is because of a provision in the original megabucks syndication deal that TBS set with “Big Bang” back in 2010.

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Even 10 years ago, that agreement anticipated that streaming services could compete with cable channels for rerun rights. The deal granted TBS a number of years of exclusivity for the show, barring “Big Bang” producer Warner Bros. TV from selling the streaming or on-demand rights separate from the cable deal. TBS’ window of exclusivity on the show was extended by nearly a year for every season that “Big Bang” stayed in first-run production for CBS. Once the show ended its CBS run last May, the end of TBS’ exclusivity window was set at 2024.

To have “Big Bang” rights ready for the spring 2020 launch of HBO Max, TBS needed to give up that exclusivity right and get something in return. Although TBS, HBO Max and Warner Bros. TV are all in the same family, the dealmaking was arm’s length and scrutinized by representatives for co-creators and profit participants Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. To make the deal work for all sides — profit participants included — WarnerMedia stepped up with a big number to secure the various rights. It’s unclear exactly how TBS was compensated for giving up its rights but it ends up with an extension through 2028 on the cable rights that otherwise would have ended in 2024.

A WarnerMedia representative declined to comment.

Because of TBS’ rights, it was not feasible for WarnerMedia to shop the show widely to outside buyers. The common parent company — and common executive leadership for TBS and HBO Max in WarnerMedia Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt — for all three players helped ease the process. But there’s no way WarnerMedia could have lowballed the price for “Big Bang” because the profit participants would have swiftly gone to court howling about self-dealing claims.

In the end, industry sources said WarnerMedia committed about $600 million over five years for “Big Bang” rights across HBO Max and TBS. The show is prized because it has yet to be exploited in the streaming market, but at the same time there’s no certainty that it will be a binge-worthy hit as a streaming offering. However, the show has a sterling track record as the pillar of TBS’ schedule ever since the show made its syndication debut on TBS and local TV stations in 2011.

Tuesday’s “Big Bang” news comes on the heels of other megabucks streaming deals for contemporary classic comedies. Earlier this week Netflix committed an estimated $500 million for the “Seinfeld” archive. HBO Max committed about $425 million to reclaim the streaming rights to “Friends” from Netflix. NBCUniversal’s nascent Peacock service, also set to bow next spring, is said to have committed $500 million to relocate “The Office” from Netflix staring in 2021.

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