When Disney announced during its August 8th earnings report that the company would be pulling its content from Netflix and launching its own streaming service, there was at least one thing that was seemingly left purposefully unstated: What would happen to Marvel films and television series on Netflix after current deals expire? Indeed, while the BC staff debated this matter in the moments after the announcement, our eyebrows collectively raised at CNBC's report on the matter, which initially stated:
"CEO Bob Iger told CNBC's Julia Boorstin Disney had a 'good relationship' with Netflix, but decided to exercise an option to move its content off the platform. Movies to be removed include Marvel as well as Disney titles. It will also be making a 'significant investment' in exclusive movies and television series for the new platform."
Moments later, the CNBC post was quietly changed to remove reference to Marvel entirely and add a blurb about Pixar.
Currently, in what is at least the third significant version change for that paragraph, the Marvel statement has been walked back even further with a flat denial that Marvel TV shows will be removed:
"CEO Bob Iger told CNBC's Julia Boorstin Disney had a 'good relationship' with Netflix, but decided to exercise an option to move its content off the platform. Movies to be removed include Disney as well as Pixar's titles, according to Iger. Netflix said Disney movies will be available through the end of 2018 on its platform. Marvel TV shows will remain."
One wonders what exactly Bob Iger did tell Julia Boorstin on August 8th, but that aside, there's been a general presumption that this still might mean that whatever current deals are in place for TV will simply be allowed to expire post-2019. Certainly, Netflix is hedging its bets by strengthening its position to create content on its own.
But here comes a report from Reuters that softens up this situation even more:
"Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger told analysts the company had not yet decided where it would distribute superhero films from Marvel Studios and movies from 'Star Wars' producer Lucasfilm, which the company owns, at that time.
Iger said on Tuesday that the Marvel and Lucasfilm movies could go to Netflix or another streaming service after 2019, or Disney might retain the rights for itself."
With Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos adding his two cents:
"Sarandos said he expected Disney's service to be 'complementary' to Netflix, which carries other family-friendly programming such as animated movies from 'Despicable Me' creator Illumination Entertainment and 'Shrek' producer Dreamworks Animation."
All of which is starting to sound quite a bit unlike the flat "decided to exercise an option to move its content off the platform" direction which CNBC attributed to Iger on August 8th.
What's the deal? Well, elephant #1 in the room is Disney's ESPN, and a similar set of announcements one year ago which haven't exactly set the world on fire in the face of the sports network's eroding cable viewership. Elephant #2 in the room is the fact that Iger is scheduled to retire in July 2019, just as this is all supposed to be playing out. Guiding Disney into the digital streaming era probably shouldn't be his swan song; it should probably be his successor's opening move.