Disney is just beginning its conscious uncoupling from Netflix

New Pixar movies will no longer be streamed on Netflix after 2018.
New Pixar movies will no longer be streamed on Netflix after 2018.
Image: Pixar
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Less than a year after Disney began streaming new movies on Netflix, the media conglomerate announced plans to end that deal and launch its own, rival streaming service.

The forthcoming Disney subscription-video service will be the exclusive US streaming home of new live-action and animated films from Disney and Pixar, starting with the 2019 theatrical slate, when the sequel to Disney’s animated hit Frozen and the live-action reboot of The Lion King will hit cinemas before joining the streaming service, the company said. At the same time, Disney will end its deal to stream new releases from those studios on Netflix, beginning in 2019. The deal was inked in 2012, before the streaming service began its aggressive original content push, and it’s not clear if Disney is cutting the deal short or not renewing.

Disney has not yet figured out what do with Marvel and Lucasfilm, however. These two studios are home to mega-franchises like the Avengers and Star Wars films, respectively, and make up a sizable chunk of Disney’s movie output. Lucasfilm and Marvel movies are part of the existing Netflix deal. But Disney CEO Bob Iger said on an call with investors today (Aug. 8) that the company is considering whether to continue licensing their films to Netflix or another streaming service, roll Marvel and Lucasfilm into its new streaming service, or to launch separate platforms just for those properties.

The company is debating whether there will be enough Marvel and Star Wars programming—of which there is already quite a bit, including TV shows like ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels, and the online Star War series like Force of Destiny, not to mention the movies—to support separate services. And Disney is also considering whether there’s enough overlap between Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm fans to lump them altogether into a single service. “It’s all in discussion,” said Iger.

Iger also said Disney is laying the groundwork for its studios and TV networks like the Disney Channel to begin creating original TV and movies for the new Disney subscription service. “This will represent a larger investment in Disney branded intellectual property,” Iger said, “both TV and movies.”

As of now, he said, there will be no change on Disney’s end to the licensing deals it has with Netflix to stream programming from US broadcaster ABC and its other TV networks, or to co-productions like Netflix’s Marvel shows, such as Daredevil and the upcoming The Defenders.

Netflix made moves of its own to shore up its superhero programming earlier this week. It bought comic-book publisher Millarworld—a sort of mini-Marvel created by comic-book writer Mark Millar—in its first-ever corporate acquisition.

Disney’s announcement of its own Netflix-style streaming-service ambitions came alongside the company’s reporting that it beat earnings forecasts for the third quarter of 2017, with adjusted earnings of $1.58 per share, versus the projections of $1.55 per share. This was largely thanks to its theme parks; Disney still posted weaker-than-expected, flat revenue (pdf) of $14.2 billion.

Poor performances by films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales hurt Disney’s studio business, and were only partially offset by increases in revenue from TV and streaming-video-on-demand licensing. And declines at ESPN continued to hurt Disney’s media network business.

Disney plans to release its previously announced ESPN subscription-streaming service in 2018, it confirmed today. It will build on ESPN’s existing app, which allows cable-TV subscribers to stream live ESPN programming, as well as news, highlights, and other content. The new standalone subscription version of ESPN will feature live regional, national, and international sports programming that is not currently available on ESPN, such as additional Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, Grand Slam tennis, and US college sports events. And the company will sell individual sports packages through the app, including MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live.

The new Disney and ESPN streaming services will be sold by Disney directly, in app stores, and through some pay-TV providers.

Disney also announced it has taken a majority stake in BAMTech, the streaming-video business started by Major League Baseball, as part of the new streaming push.

Disney’s shares and Netflix’s both fell about 4-5% to $102.79 and $173.50, respectively, in after-hours trading today.