Variety Lets Netflix Spin Them With Expiring BBC Titles Story

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Netflix doesn't like to talk publicly about when a specific title might expire from their streaming service and that desire is primarily driven by two factors. The first is one that Netflix rightly says can be confusing to subscribers. Many times a title is set to expire but a new deal is made to continue streaming the content just before the expiration date arrives. It can be confusing and I don't blame Netflix for worrying about that scenario.

The second reason is driven more by PR desires than anything else. In publicity terms, it does Netflix no good whatsoever to have publications writing stories about all of the titles that may be leaving soon. Initially, Netflix simply removed the expiration data from its public API and hoped the issue would fade away. But what has happened instead is that web sites such as AllYourScreens have spent a lot of manpower tracking the data and assembling our own lists. The lists get a huge amount of reader interest, so Netflix has gotten more creative about how they handle publicity about the expiration dates.

With the end of the year looming, Netflix was faced with the prospect of a bunch of articles listing all of the titles that were expiring on January 1. So the company carefully released a partial list of expiring titles in mid-December. That release seems timed to ensure that few readers would care about the issue by the end of the year. And by releasing a shortened "official" list, the geniuses at Netflix PR also made it more difficult to get readers interested in a longer, more accurate list.

In January, the big story has been the fate of a number of popular BBC titles. As we first reported several weeks ago, a large number of fan favorites were set to expire on February 1. That included "Dr. Who," "Torchwood," "Top Gear," "Copper" and "Blackadder." As you might imagine, the news was met with teeth-gnashing and a lot of frantic attempts to watch every episode of the shows before they disappeared.

But on Friday, Netflix managed to both announce an amended deal had been made while taking a shot at web sites that track the data with this thinly-sourced piece in Variety. According to an unidentified Netflix spokeswoman, those "reports were false."

Of course, that Variety piece sparked a cascade of stories from other outlets who "aggregated" the Variety piece and repeated the party line that the previous stories weren't true. Yes, those previous stories were just "exaggerated."

Which would fine except for the fact that the initial expiration data came from Netflix's own information. That larger list of titles was drawn from warnings supplied to subscribers who had been watching the titles, so labeling the info as "false" seems a bit far-fetched. And since Variety seemed happy to just pass along the unnamed Netflix spokesperson's claim, there wasn't much of a downside to claiming that the bad news was all the result of some faulty reporting.

Here's the truth. On January 2, Netflix began warning subscribers that a large number of BBC titles would be expiring in a month. While many of the most-popular titles were included, there were always some titles - such as "Sherlock" - which fell under a different contract and weren't going to expire on that date. Earlier this week, Netflix came to an agreement with the content owners to keep many of the most-popular BBC titles on its service. That includes shows such as "Doctor Who," "Top Gear" and "Copper." But a number of other titles are still set to expire on February 2.

This wasn't some confusion on the part of media outlets such as ours. It was just an amended contract and rather than releasing news along the lines of "Hey, we've cut a new deal!," the folks at Netflix seem to want to spin the story their way.

This might sound like petty bickering between media outlets. But it's really about spin from Netflix. It's in that company's best interests to keep this expiration data as difficult to find as possible. But quickly thrown together pieces from industry leaders like Variety only make the job of other journalists who cover this issue on a daily basis much more difficult. That's a great scenario for Netflix but it does a disservice to their subscribers.

If you're interested in tracking the latest information available on which titles will expire from Netflix, click here to visit our constantly updated list.