Netflix marks first foray into live event stream with Chris Rock stand-up special

Netflix next year will make its first foray into live events, this week disclosing plans to stream a new Chris Rock stand-up comedy special in early 2023.

Rock’s special – the comedian’s second for Netflix - will be streamed as a massive global live event, according to a Thursday blog post.

Making a move into live events follows another first for the SVOD giant, which earlier this month introduced its first-ever tier with ads – a reversal of the company’s longstanding position eschewing advertising within its on-demand platform.

“Chris Rock is one of the most iconic and important comedic voices of our generation,” said Robbie Praw, Netflix Vice President of Stand-up and Comedy Formats, in a statement. “We’re thrilled the entire world will be able to experience a live Chris Rock comedy event and be a part of Netflix history. This will be an unforgettable moment and we’re so honored that Chris is carrying this torch.”

While Netflix hasn’t streamed live events before, it appears to have some interest – particularly around sports. The streamer reportedly bid on rights for Formula One in the U.S., but apparently wasn’t in the ballpark, with Disney and ESPN ultimately securing a deal through the 2025 season. Popularity of F1 racing has been growing in the U.S., with Morning Consult finding that Netflix’s “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” docuseries notably helped to fuel some of the fandom. According to the firm’s March survey, more than half of self-identified F1 fans said the Netflix series played a role in their becoming a fan of the sport – including 30% citing the show as a major reason and 23% saying it was a minor reason.

Still, while Netflix may have interest in live sports, the SVOD giant apparently isn’t willing to shell out big bucks as the price and competition for popular sports rights continues to rise. Per a Wall Street Journal report this week, Netflix is eyeing more niche sports. The WSJ, citing unnamed sources familiar with the discussions, reported Netflix recently bid for streaming rights for the ATP tennis tour in some countries in Europe, as well as discussed bidding for U.K. rights to women’s tennis and cycling competitions. Wary of increasing bidding costs for sports rights the streamer has also considered buying lesser-known leagues – such as the World Surf League, according to the WSJ, though negotiations didn’t come to fruition.

Interest in live sports comes as Netflix is looking for new ways to grow as domestic subscriber counts slowed in recent quarters. Instead of subscriber counts, the company said it’s putting more emphasis on revenue as a top line metric going forward, and alongside its move into the ad-supported space, it’s also planning to implement new paid models to crack down on and monetize account sharing more widely next year.