In an unexpected turn of events, it was revealed yesterday that Disney would be ending their Netflix contract as part of the company’s plan to create their own streaming service for 2019. The announcement raised a lot of concerns from fans because of its potential effects to the MCU, particularly the Netflix shows. This is a topic that can be confusing to those who don’t carefully watch this part of the entertainment business, so we are going to break it down for our readers as simply as we know how.
Q: So what happened?
A: Not much actually happened yesterday. Disney simply made a statement that they were no longer going to sell the rights to their new films for TV and streaming after the current contract is up. Instead, they are going to create their own streaming service to which fans can subscribe. (I’m calling it Mouseflix for now, a Netflix for all Disney, all the time.) Such a project is a major undertaking and will be years in the making. But the contracts in discussion here are usually signed years ahead. Most likely Disney was beginning to get to the time frame where such deals needed renegotiation, so they had to go public on their plans if for no other reason than the various suitors for that deal (Netflix, Showtime, etc.) would start to realize something is up and leak that info themselves. Still, nothing actually changed yesterday as far as viewer access to content. (Disney has bought up an expensive streaming company previously owned by MLB, as part of the ground work for this project.)
Q: So when will something change?
A: Currently Disney’s deal with Netflix runs through all the 2019 releases. So everything will run basically as per usual until 2020 since there is a six-month delay on film releases to Netflix. So it’ll be three years, give or take, until something is different.
Q: How does this affect Marvel movies?
A: Many fans will have noticed that beginning with 2016 releases, Marvel movies now go to Netflix about six months after release. This contract was a major coup for Netflix. Previously that kind of access to recent films was bought up by HBO, Showtime, or another premium cable company. Currently, Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange are on Netflix and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 should arrive around Christmas. (Note, Spider-Man: Homecoming is not part of this deal as it is not a Disney distributed deal.) Because this contract runs through the 2019 films, every single film Marvel Studios has announced will go to Netflix. Avengers 4 is the last film on the slate (remember the Spidey sequel is Sony) and its May 2019 release date means it is part of the current contract. What is unclear is how long Netflix gets to keep a movie. Captain America: Civil War will stay for some period, but eventually will expire after a set number of months or after the contract is over or something. (For example, Iron Man is currently on Hulu but that wasn’t the original deal made. Hulu is surely the third or fourth company to obtain the rights to that film for a season of time.) Phase Four films will not be part of the new deal (unless Marvel announces one between July and December of 2019). They will go over to Disney’s streaming service.
Q: Does this make it likely that the MCU back catalog of films will be available on the new service?
A: This is yet to be seen. My guess would be that Disney will need a lot of content to make the new service sound appealing, and the Phase 1 and Phase 2 films would be a valuable asset in that effort. I’d bet that we see the first dozen MCU films as a cornerstone of the marketing of the new service, plus Phase 3 films if they have expired at Netflix. Note that years ago Disney cleaned things up by purchasing back the distribution rights to their Phase 1 films that were distributed by Paramount and Universal.
Q: What about Daredevil, The Defenders, Jessica Jones, etc.?
A: It appears that this means nothing for the Netflix TV shows. Reports are that they will continue to work as per usual. It is important to realize the distinction here. Films are produced by Disney and Marvel Studios. Disney pays for them, has creative control over them, and then sells their rights for TV and streaming purposes. The Netflix MCU shows, however, are a collaborative effort between Netflix and Marvel TV. Netflix helps to fund them and, typically, by funding the production also owns the rights to them forever. To use a metaphor, the films are like a piece of art that an artist allows a museum to loan, with the expectation that they own the painting, can take it back, and can later show it at another museum on loan. The TV shows, however, are like the artists doing a commission piece for a gallery. Once it is finished, the gallery owns it and can do with it as they please. Marvel simply cannot take the already produced seasons of these shows from Netflix, because Netflix paid for their creation. If Marvel wanted to not renew the deal and produce their own content, that’s theoretically possible. But it would also mean they’d have to pay the production costs out of pocket that Netflix has been paying until now. Others have wondered if Disney even wants these shows in a streaming service. Wouldn’t it be weird to have The Punisher in a lineup between Frozen and That’s So Raven? All signs point to the Netflix MCU shows staying put. That said, there is always a possibility that Marvel would finish out whatever shows the contractually must do with Netflix and then move future seasons to the new Disney streaming service.
Q: Any other MCU issues?
A: I’ve not seen this mentioned in the media at large, but note that Freeform is an ABC/Disney network. It’s terribly likely that Cloak and Dagger and New Warriors will one day end up as a Disney Streaming Service exclusive show, the same way Daredevil is a Netflix exclusive show. They could hypothetically do the same thing with Inhumans and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Forcing fans of those shows to buy the new service (and not keeping the shows on Hulu or something) will drive up subscriptions. It will be interesting to see how nice Disney plays with Hulu on TV content since they 25% own that service. How ABC’s and Freeform’s interests as TV networks play into this is yet to be seen.
Q: Any other Marvel implications?
A: While it isn’t MCU, Disney does produce a lot of Marvel animation through its Disney XD channel. It is safe to assume that most all Disney XD Marvel toons will move to this new service.
Q: Can you give me a three sentence summary?
A: Disney is creating a new subscription channel that will likely carry MCU movies, Freeform and ABC shows, and Disney XD animation. Most likely some MCU content will be exclusive to this service, forcing MCU fans who want that content to pay for another service. For now, it appears this will do nothing to the Netflix produced MCU shows.
Hopefully, that helps. I’ll try to patrol the comments and answer any questions you might have. Feel free to share them there.