Lucky to be Canadian: Netflix subscribers in the Great White North will be able to stream “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2016, the only territory where the company currently has secured streaming rights for the film.
The reason Netflix will be able to offer the much-anticipated movie in Canada next year — and not in the U.S. or anywhere else — has to do with the timing of when Disney’s pay-TV distribution deals were up for grabs.
In the U.S., premium cable channel Starz has an exclusive output deal with Disney that runs through the end of 2015; Netflix’s pact with the Mouse House commences with 2016 titles. With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” slated for Dec. 18 theatrical debut, that means Starz will be the pay-TV home for the movie in the U.S.
The issue of digital rights arose earlier this week, when Disney revealed plans to launch DisneyLife, a subscription service with movies, TV shows, books and music, in the U.K. and across Europe. While movies from the “Star Wars” franchise and Marvel will not be included at launch, Disney might launch subscription services for each of those brands in the future, according to CEO Bob Iger.
For Netflix, obtaining worldwide rights to acquired and original programming is a big priority, as it expects to launch service in some 200 countries by the end of 2016. The streamer recently cut worldwide rights deals for three TV shows: CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” CBS’s “Zoo” and USA’s upcoming dystopian drama “Colony.”
Meanwhile, although “The Force Awakens” won’t likely hit most Netflix queues anytime soon, older films in the mega-franchise could become available on SVOD.
On Netflix’s third-quarter 2015 earnings call last week, chief content officer Ted Sarandos said the company was in talks with Disney about the possibility of licensing past “Star Wars” movies.
“It’s up to Disney how they want to manage access to those assets before, during or after the release of ‘Star Wars VII.’ So it’s certainly an ongoing discussion,” Sarandos said.
Disney, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012, controls rights to five of the six previous “Star Wars” pictures, while 21st Century Fox owns rights to the original 1977 “Star Wars.”
Last month, Disney and Fox inked deals with China’s Tencent to stream the first six “Star Wars” movies in the world’s most-populous nation. No release date for “The Force Awakens” has been set for China as yet.