With Disney planning to launch its own streaming video service imminently, there's just one problem: It does not have the option at the moment to show the movies from a little franchise called Star Wars.
Although Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and owns all the Star Wars films, the company sold the exclusive cable rights to most of the movies -- The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the prequels, and the entries Disney has made since then -- to AT&T subsidiary Turner Broadcasting in 2016 for $275 million (the rights to the very first movie, A New Hope, were owned by original distributor Fox, with whom Turner made a separate deal).
There was nothing unusual about that at the time, but back then the idea of a Disney-branded streaming service to compete with the likes of Netflix and Hulu was just a gleam in Disney CEO Robert Iger's eye. Now that the Disney service is on the way to becoming a reality, Disney understandably wants Star Wars to be a cornerstone of that business -- including all the theatrical movies.
But according to Bloomberg, Turner isn't ready to hand them over. That company owns the rights to show the Star Wars films on TBS and TNT (as well as their online components) through 2024 and, also understandably, has no interest for now in losing what is probably a reliably healthy ratings and advertising generator for both networks.
Disney did make an inquiry about buying back the rights and was rebuffed, but it's not clear at this point whether this was just an opening gambit in negotiations or if Turner is going to really hold onto the films for the next six years. An inside source said it would take "financial considerations" (translation: a lot of money) and other programming options for Turner to give up the series before its rights expire.
In the meantime, Disney is preparing other Star Wars material for the streaming service -- including at least one original new series and perhaps even some new movies -- and is pulling movies and TV shows from services like Netflix as well in advance of putting them on the Disney one. But for now, or least until Disney and Turner negotiate a deal, the Star Wars movies won't be part of the fun when the Disney service premieres in Fall 2019.