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The world’s largest entertainment company tried to buy back TV rights to “Star Wars’’ movies from AT&T Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting so that it can offer them on a new streaming video service, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Disney made a preliminary inquiry about regaining the rights, but met resistance, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks were private. Turner has the rights to show the films on its cable networks, which include TNT and TBS, and online until 2024. The programmer would want financial considerations and programming to replace the lost films, one person said. The talks haven’t advanced further.
The “Star Wars’’ films are among the highest grossing in Hollywood, and content from the space saga figures to be a bedrock part of a new Disney streaming service that’s expected to debut next year. The company has said the service will include a catalog of movies and TV shows, as well as new, original programming such as a “Star Wars” TV series. It also wants the freedom to offer “Star Wars” movies on the service at will, one person said.
Disney sold certain rights to Turner in 2016, before it completed plans for the streaming service. The company has released four new Star Wars films since it acquired LucasFilm in 2012, and plans to release another in December 2019. Turner paid about $275 million for the six Star Wars movies released between 1977 and 2005, plus the newer titles.
Studios have long sold rights to their most popular films to TV networks to make more money after movies end their run in theaters. Paid networks like HBO, Showtime and Netflix acquire the rights to show movies a few months after they leave theaters, and then basic cable networks like FX and TNT buy the rights after they leave the premium services.
But media companies like Disney are now looking to build their own streaming services to compete with Netflix Inc., the world’s largest online TV network, and finding some of their biggest features may be unavailable for years. Netflix has attracted more than 130 million customers by using popular TV shows and movies from other companies.
Disney has already said it won’t renew a deal with Netflix that gave the company rights to new releases, including four “Star Wars’’ titles. That accord expires at the end of this year.