Disney (and its Marvel division) have had a brief but good run with Netflix, resulting in a slew of original content and reasonably timely streaming video access to huge titles from the Star Wars series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pixar, and Disney’s flagship studio. But today Disney said it is pulling the plug on this relationship — eventually — as it plans to launch a competing streaming service in the next year.
Let’s deal with the Netflix thing first. The streaming video giant currently has a deal with Disney that gives it priority, sometimes exclusive access (among subscription services) to many of Disney’s highest-profile titles. The two companies have also co-produced a wildly popular series of shows based on Marvel characters: Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, along with upcoming shows featuring The Punisher, not to mention The Defenders, which will feature all of these characters.
But according to Disney, this distribution relationship with Netflix will end with theatrical content released in 2019. So Netflix subscribers still have more than a year and a half before the Disney well runs dry. That means you should still be able to watch The Last Jedi and whatever they end up calling the Han Solo film (assuming it ever gets finished) on Netflix, but not Episode IX or It’s a Trap, the high-concept, romantic farce backstory of a young Admiral Gial Ackbar.
Only yesterday, Netflix announced it was getting into the high-profile comics business itself with the acquisition of Millarworld, the company behind franchises like Kick-Ass and Kingsmen. It now looks like that deal was a move to shore up Netflix’s original intellectual properties to prepare for the impending exit of Disney.
So what exactly is Disney doing?
The goodbye to Netflix is actually just a small part of Disney’s bigger (though less imminently relevant) announcement: The acquisition of BAMTech, a company whose name you probably don’t know but whose technology may already be getting regular use in your household.
BAMTech was started as part of Major League Baseball’s efforts to bring live streaming games to the world through MLB.tv. Since then, this division has helped create the HBO Now standalone streaming service, other sports leagues and wrestling events, and live video game streaming. Disney invested $1 billion BAMTech in 2016 in the hopes of launching a standalone ESPN platform.
Now the house the mouse built is now forking over another $1.58 billion to become the majority owner in BAMTech. The company says the ESPN standalone plan is still a-go, but with 2018 as the targeted launch date. We expect that the launch of a competing ESPN being sold to cord-cutters will lead to some cable companies crying foul and trying to ditch ESPN — easily the most expensive single channel in any basic cable lineup — from their mandatory offerings.
Beyond all that, Disney is also looking to launch its own subscription streaming service in 2019 that would house a library of Disney and Pixar titles in one place. Since this service would pick up where the Netflix deal leaves off, the studio’s 2019 movies would find a streaming home on this new platform. The announcement doesn’t mention Marvel or the Star Wars movies, so it’s unclear if Disney intends to also host these on their new service, create separate new subscription platforms, or just open the market up to more than Netflix.