The Walt Disney Company is attempting to buy back Star Wars TV rights after selling them to AT&T Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting in an 8-year deal for the movies to air on channels like TBS and TNT, Bloomberg reports.
Disney hopes to reclaim the rights so those Star Wars films can be offered on the company’s in-the-works streaming service expected to debut in 2019. Turner paid $275 million in 2016 for the six-episode saga released between 1977 and 2005 — A New Hope through Revenge of the Sith — in addition to the newer titles, which would include The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Sources tell Bloomberg Disney made a “preliminary inquiry” but was met with resistance. As it stands now, Turner has the rights to air the films on its cable networks and online until 2024, and would want financial compensation and replacement content should it sell.
The sale to Turner was made before Disney finalized plans for its own streaming network, which will be populated by both an expansive catalog of movies and TV shows as well as all-new original content from Star Wars and other major Disney-owned IPs like Marvel and Monsters, Inc.
Disney wants its acquired library of the six Star Wars films plus the four made under the Disney-Lucasfilm banner offered on its streaming service, but that possibility is threatened by the deal with Turner Broadcasting. According to the Bloomberg source, talks haven’t advanced beyond that early inquiry and it remains to be seen what concessions could be made to allow Disney to regain its coveted trove of Star Wars titles.
Selling rights to popular films has long been an industry wide standard: it’s typical for studios to sell rights to paid premium networks like HBO and Showtime before movies reach basic cable networks like FX and TNT.
Disney already declined to renew its deal with Netflix that gave the streaming service rights to new releases, including the first four Star Wars titles Disney produced since its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012. The company similarly plans to pull Marvel content from Netflix to bolster its direct-to-consumer streaming service, which will also host a plethora of titles acquired in Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox.