Disney has always hitched its streaming-video star to its blockbuster movie studios. But the media giant’s subscription service won’t have many of the latest movies from Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm, or Disney itself when it launches in late 2019.
The streaming rights to movies such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, Coco, Moana, and Beauty and the Beast are currently tied up in exclusive US deals with distributors like Netflix and Starz, media analysts at research firm Bernstein wrote in a report today.
“[It] would take time for those rights, ultimately, to revert back to us,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said during his company’s earnings call on Tuesday (Aug. 7). “If they’re looking for, I don’t know, The Force Awakens, that it’s not going to be on. But if they’re looking for Star Wars movies that launched in 2019 or original Star Wars series, you will find that here.” Iger noted on Tuesday that Disney would clearly communicate the delay in, or absence of certain titles when it markets the service.
Disney’s conundrum is one of its own making. It sold exclusive streaming rights to Disney movies to Netflix, which kicked in in 2016, and the films remain on the service for about a year and half after they’re added. Before that, Starz licensed Disney movies; its streaming platform still has titles like Disney’s The Princess and the Frog and Pixar’s Wall-E and Up. Turner also has the first six Star Wars movies through 2024, the rights for which Disney is reportedly trying to buy back. It’s unclear whether that deal prevents Disney from also streaming those movies on its service, and Disney didn’t provide additional details on the call.
Iger said the company will work to regain streaming rights to its films as or before the existing deals, most of which have rolling multi-year commitments, expire. Either way, he argued that Disney’s 2019 release slate, which includes films like Avengers 4, Captain Marvel, The Lion King, and Frozen 2, will be so strong that subscribers won’t mind the absence of other recent releases. The company’s as-of-yet-unnamed streaming service will also boast Disney classics that aren’t encumbered by other deals, originals like the live-action Star Wars series made exclusively for the platform, and other family-friendly programming from Disney studios and networks that include Fox’s National Geographic.
Iger conceded that the platform will have a smaller library than Netflix, noting that Disney is focused on the “quality game” rather than the “volume game.” It will also cost less, though Disney has not said how much. The company’s sports-themed subscription service, ESPN+, launched in April with a meager lineup at $4.99 per month.
Said Iger on Tuesday: “It takes time to build the kind of content library that, ultimately, we intend to build.”