Netflix sends message to Disney, rivals with Ryan Murphy deal

Shonda Rhimes is a Hollywood powerhouse
Shonda Rhimes is a Hollywood powerhouse

If Netflix's exclusive deal with producer Shonda Rhimes was a brush-back pitch to the traditional TV business -- and Disney in particular -- the streaming service's latest mega-signing, with Ryan Murphy, represents a bean ball.

Murphy, the producer of such shows as "American Horror Story" and "Glee," is currently under the umbrella of 20th Century Fox Television, an entity that Disney intends to acquire in its agreed-upon purchase of key Fox assets. Part of the rationale for that merger was to bulk up the studio's content business as it prepares to launch its own streaming service, taking on Netflix's dominance as a direct pipeline into homes.

Netflix, however, is serving notice that it won't easily be trumped in the battle for premium content. And while the reported $300-million pact with Murphy is more than merely symbolic -- securing the services of a proven hit-maker -- there's no doubt that part of its appeal stems from sending a message to the talent community, especially after Murphy publicly stated that Disney CEO Bob Iger personally called to reassure and woo him.

Of course, there are plenty of variables built into this particular high-stakes chess match. Disney, for starters, possesses an enviable treasure trove of standout properties -- including its beloved animated titles, Marvel and Lucasfilm -- to use as the foundation of its service, having already announced that a "Star Wars"-branded series will be part of the mix.

Netflix, moreover, is gambling that Murphy will be able to create new hits and buzz-worthy programming, which is never a sure thing, even for somebody with an enviable track record.

Related: Ryan Murphy is heading to Netflix

If there's a short-term winner in all this, it's clearly A-list talent and their representatives, who love nothing more than seeing bidding wars develop as new money comes into the business. Beyond Disney, Netflix also has its eyes trained on other deep-pocketed streaming competitors -- some still just getting their feet wet -- including Amazon, Apple and Google.

After the Rhimes deal was announced, her agent, ICM Partners managing partner Chris Silbermann, used a sports analogy to describe the underlying factors that motivated Netflix to sign the creator of "Scandal" and "Grey's Anatomy" away from ABC Studios.

"The value of elite series creators has increased, in much the same way a franchise player drives the value of an NBA team," he told CNN.

Money also isn't the only factor. Indeed, for top talent, the ability to work in a hands-off environment -- with near-total creative freedom, and diminished ratings pressure -- can be as much of a lure as cash.

Because these high-profile agreements will take considerable time before they bear fruit -- or not -- it will quite a while before analysts can properly evaluate how well these strategic maneuvers pan out.

Like kids on a sandlot, in fact, the game has really just started, with the big difference being that TV's rich are likely to get even richer while the sides choose their teams.


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