If there was any doubt Netflix and Disney had gone to war after Disney declared that it’d be jumping into streaming in competition with Netflix in 2019, Sunday erased it. Netflix has officially signed Shonda Rhimes, ABC’s top drama showrunner and producer, away from Disney’s ABC. It’s a coup for Netflix, but for Disney, it’s also a warning that streaming is harder than it looks.
Rhimes won’t be leaving ABC’s airwaves immediately, which Netflix was at pains to make clear, but this is still a huge blow to ABC when the network can ill afford losing a star like Rhimes. Rhimes anchors a weeknight for the network, with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder airing back to back. Grey’s Anatomy is ABC’s top scripted drama, and one of its biggest draws for the 18-49-year-olds networks need for ad dollars, while Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder are close behind in ratings and popularity. But Scandal, which wraps this year, and Grey’s are closer to the end of their runs than their starts, and ABC will need new dramas to replace them to keep their Thursday drama block thriving.
It’s also an important reminder that streaming services need more than just a good library to get up and running to grab attention. Netflix has gone heavily into debt to build its service, and Disney will have to figure out what to offer beyond a library of movies many people likely already own in the first place. Whatever they put together, though, it’s not going to be with Rhimes, and that’s a loss they’ll feel.