Yesterday, The Walt Disney Company sent shockwaves through the industry by announcing it would end its long-standing agreement to distribute its films on Netflix’s streaming platform in favor of building one of their own. But for those primarily concerned about subsequent seasons of the Marvel/Netflix partnerships shows like Luke Cage, the future is secure for now.
According to a statement from Netflix (via Bloomberg), the company will “continue to do business with the Walt Disney Company on many fronts, including our ongoing relationship with Marvel TV.” Which, for the moment, means The Defenders will continue on as Netflix originals. As for those who do enjoy watching Disney feature films on the platform — and indeed Marvel Studios features like Captain America: Civil War — the content will still be available and updated with new releases through the end of 2019, when the current contract expires.
Meanwhile, Disney’s streaming service will also launch in 2019 and offer both Disney feature films, television shows and other original content. Presumably Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar productions will be part of the package. In a statement, Disney CEO Bob Iger said, “Our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the company, one that takes advantage of the incredible opportunity that changing technology provides us to leverage the strength of our great brands.” Which is business speak for “it’s our turn on the field.”
Though Netflix reported a drop in earnings recently, the success of the platform always led to tensions with the Hollywood Studios. Back in the days when Netflix was a DVD-by-mail service, Warner Bros. strong-armed the company into accepting a 27-day delay in making its new releases available to Netflix subscribers. Warner later convinced Netflix to extended the delay another 30 days in order to support Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s sell-through window. This was around the time Netflix began offering online streamed content, which led to further tensions, shorter licensing windows and Netflix’s move into original content.
It also led to studios and networks attempting their own streaming platforms to various levels of success with services like Hulu, HBO Go, and CBS All Access.
So, to an extent, Disney’s move is not terribly surprising. The studios attempting to own their streaming platforms is as natural as their direct ownership of movie theaters in the early-to-mid 20th Century. It’s also as natural as the surreptitious way they got back into the theatrical distribution game in the late 20th Century. The real surprise is the notion that Lucasfilm and Marvel products could be tiered off in their own streaming services. “We want to be mindful of the Star Wars fan, the Marvel fan, and to what extent those fans either overlap with Disney fans or are completely separate and incremental to Disney,” he said. If anything in Disney’s approach warrants pause, it’s this idea.
Meanwhile, I wonder how quickly consumers will miss the one-stop-shop element of Netflix and turn on the studios’ branded subscription services. Services like Seeso are already shutting down, but I suppose the bubble has to expand a bit more before cable looks like a more attractive offer again.