I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This, Disney-style

It was with some surprise that I read about Disney wanting to buy back the rights to Star Wars movies it had sold to Turner for broadcast on TBS and TNT. Not too surprised they wanted the rights back with the launch of the Disney streaming service in the next year, but surprised that someone at Disney – in 2016 – thought it was a good idea to sell those rights for an eight year period.

In today’s (or even 2016’s) TV/streaming environment, eight years is a lifetime. Even the agreement Disney signed with Netflix in 2012, which only kicked in as of 2016, was able to be terminated rather quickly (seemingly with one year’s notice) once Disney decided in 2017 to launch its own service.

Even more curious is that the Turner agreement was announced in September 2016, a month after Disney’s acquisition of MLBAM was announced (and presumably many months after that acquisition was put into play). MLBAM was projected by many at the time as being acquired to be the backbone for future ESPN and Disney streaming services. It certainly gives the appearance that Disney’s divisions were walking out of step in this case.

It does bring up the interesting issue for content owners in the future – do they try to pull all their premiere content back into their verticals to feed their own streaming services? While this would seem to make sense from a competitive point of view, it does bring up another question – is it serving their shareholders? Presumably licensing fees would be lower by avoiding a true marketplace auction for their content, and that could make media companies vulnerable to shareholder complaints or even legal action.

Of course, self-dealing is nothing new in television. It’s just taken on another wrinkle to navigate in this new world of streaming, frenemies, and consolidation.

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