Disney+ will soon make the streaming wars even more complicated when it launches next week, but getting their library of content in place wasn’t as easy as gathering all the titles they’ve distributed over the years. That’s because long before Disney+ was ever an idea, The Walt Disney Company had sold the licensing rights to their movies in deals with the likes of Netflix and Starz, giving them the exclusive opportunity to air and stream some of the studio’s biggest hits. And that came back to bite them in the butt when they needed those movies for Disney+. But in the end, a deal was struck to get the rights to some of those movies back, though it requires Disney+ to do something they never wanted.
The Verge has learned that both Disney+ and ESPN+ will be running ads to promote the premium TV channel Starz in exchange for the streaming rights to movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was previously licensed to the cable channel. These ads will appear as display banners on the login page for Disney+ and ESPN+, as well as in the Android app for the former and on internet browser pages accessing the streaming services. Thankfully, you won’t see any ads in the services themselves.
This new deal is all in service of ensuring that Disney+ has the most expansive catalog of Disney-owned titles available in their streaming library on launch day next week. And it’s in direct opposition to the original plan for Disney+ to be an ad-free streaming platform. In the end, there aren’t really any ads within the streaming service itself, unlike ad-supported versions of Hulu, for example. But this is still something Disney+ surely would have rather avoided, especially since they’ve been actively avoiding advertising for other streaming services like Netflix on some of the channels they own.
Efforts to gather up the movies with different licensing deals for streaming elsewhere were revealed to The Verge in August when Michael Paull, head of Disney streaming services, told them:
“I think, as you can see from what we’re making available, and from seeing some of the titles that we’re making available at launch, there’s been a lot of effort that went into bringing it all back together so that we could make it available on the service.”
Indeed, the library of titles available is rather impressive, even if it doesn’t include a lot of the biggest hits from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s a good chance that we won’t see all of those movies on Disney+ at the same time in the early days of the service, though it’s not impossible to happen at some point.
Streaming services have made licensing rights even more complicated in recent years, and they were already complicated enough. That’s why you’re constantly seeing movies from different studios leave streaming libraries at Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime only to come back a few months later. However, that might change as streaming services become more territorial about licensing rights. Forthcoming streaming services like HBO Max and Peacock have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the streaming rights to shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory and The Office, and they’re likely not going to let them go in the near future (unless they don’t last very long in the streaming wars). Begun, the streaming wars have.