I'm not ashamed to admit that my wife and I love to watch Friends on Netflix. It's sort of comfort television, and there are even studies that show that watching it helps reduce stress. I suspect that might be part of the attraction, considering that we have four children under the age of 11.

Maybe you're not a Friends fan. Maybe The Office is more of your thing. Considering it's the most popular show on Netflix, you're clearly not alone. Either way, if you've been counting on Netflix to get your fix, you'll be out of luck soon.

In fact, WarnerMedia is pulling Friends from Netflix at the end of 2019, making it available exclusively on a new streaming service, HBO Max, while The Office is headed to NBC's forthcoming streaming service in 2020.

It's a big loss.

If you need a reason to believe that the loss of these two shows is a big deal, remember that Netflix paid $100 million less than a year ago just to keep Friends around through 2019. That's a lot of cash for a show that hasn't been on television for over 15 years.

It seems inevitable that depending on your competitors to provide your most valuable assets is no longer a viable long-term solution. Especially now that those competitors have decided that they want in on the streaming-service game. 

NBC and HBO aren't the only new streaming players coming soon to a TV near you. Disney is launching its own service, Disney Plus, and plans to offer its extensive library of film classics alongside its growing library of content that includes Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel.

A unique idea.

At one time, Netflix was unique. In fact, it was unique twice.

Netflix had very little direct competition when it first launched as a DVD-by-mail service. It created an entirely new way of getting movies that disrupted, and even destroyed, the previous model. In fact, it put Blockbuster Video out of business. Well, Blockbuster helped because it didn't adapt fast enough--which actually makes my point.

Next, it saw the opportunity to eliminate the wait time of having DVD's delivered by mail, delivering movies on demand instead, directly over the internet. No one else was doing that, and certainly not with the amount of content Netflix had. It worked. 

In fact, Netflix represents 15 percent of worldwide internet usage. That's a lot of episodes of The Office.

But eventually, your unique idea becomes the norm and everyone finds a way to compete. 

Someone will always figure out how to do what you do. Sometimes they'll find ways to do it better. And if your good idea is to find a way to make someone else's best ideas available to the masses, eventually they'll realize they could do that themselves and cut you out.

What happens next.

That's what's happening to Netflix. The challenge is to figure out what to do next. To its credit, Netflix hasn't been blind to what was coming. Clearly, the company understood that the content creators would eventually realize that the next logical step would be to simply offer their own versions of Netflix.

That's why we have shows like Stranger Things, Orange Is the New Black, and The Crown. Netflix's third act came as it realized that as content creators began to compete in streaming distribution, it would have to become a content creator, so it did. It turns out that it's actually pretty good at it too.

The question is whether that will be enough.

Of course, that's the same question for your business. Is the good idea you've built your business on enough? Or is someone else about to find a way to do it better?

There's a good chance it's the latter, which means that, like Netflix, the real question is "what's next?"

Published on: Jul 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.