Turner Sets Massive ‘Star Wars’ Movie Rights Deal with Disney

Cynthia Littleton

Turner has made a massive commitment to harness the power of the Force. The Time Warner division has struck a nine-figure deal with Disney for basic cable rights to 10 “Star Wars” movies, and it has set a separate agreement with 20th Century Fox for the original 1977 blockbuster.

The deal to make TBS and TNT the TV home of the “Star Wars” canon underscores the value of marquee film franchises at a time when networks are desperate to lock up high-end content with built-in audience appeal. The sale of the 11 movies — four of which have yet to be released — has been in the works for nearly a year. NBCUniversal’s USA Network and Fox’s FX Networks were known to have been among the contenders for the package.

The value of the deal is estimated by industry sources to be at least $250 million over a license term that runs through at least 2022, given the release schedule for the later titles. Last year’s global blockbuster “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which raked in $2 billion at the worldwide box office, is believed to have commanded a license fee of around $35 million-$40 million. The four other upcoming titles are believed to be in the same range. Turner and Disney declined to comment on financial terms of the pact.

The eye-popping “Star Wars” pact comes on the heels of Warner Bros. setting a deal with NBCUniversal cablers for the eight films in the “Harry Potter” franchise, plus the new “Fantastic Beasts” installments. That deal was also valued at more than $250 million. NBCUniversal had more incentive to spend big on “Harry Potter” because of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s hugely successful association with Universal theme parks.

“Force Awakens” is the first of a trilogy that will continue with “Episode VIII” in 2017 and “Episode IX” in 2019. Two stand-alone pics — “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and a young Han Solo saga — are set for release in December and 2018, respectively.

“Force Awakens” will arrive on Turner in early 2018 after completing its pay TV run on Starz. “Rogue One” will be available to Turner in 2019. The six older “Star Wars” titles will begin airing over six consecutive nights on TNT starting Sept. 20. The cabler also has “Star Wars” movie marathons set for Sept. 24-25. It will set another marathon of the six pics leading up to the Dec. 16 bow of “Rogue One” — a marketing push that will help Disney and help TNT draft off the box office buzz for the refurbished “Star Wars” universe.

“The ‘Star Wars’ movies and characters are beloved across generations, captivating audiences and breaking box office records around the globe for nearly four decades,” said Deborah K. Bradley, executive vice president of networks optimization, content strategy and commercialization for Turner. “Through this deal, TNT and TBS will be the exclusive basic cable home of one of the most iconic, enduring and valuable movie franchises of all time, giving viewers the chance to watch this amazing collection from the very beginning.”

Turner will also be granted on-demand rights to offer the movies on its ad-supported streaming and VOD platforms. It’s understood that the deal terms even specify a minimum ad load for Turner’s streaming/VOD plays of the “Star Wars” pics. That’s in part to differentiate that window from Disney’s other premium digital distribution options for the titles.

Industry sources noted that the deal was complicated by the fact that the newer titles (other than “Force Awakens”) will be coming to basic cable after more than yearlong run on Netflix. Disney set a groundbreaking pay TV output deal with Netflix that covers its theatrical releases for 2016-2018. The exposure for the titles on the streaming giant added a wrinkle to determining the value of the titles in the ad-supported cable window.

Despite the hefty price tag, Disney still retains the option of selling the newer titles to broadcast TV for limited airings after Netflix’s pay TV window ends.

Fox holds the TV rights to the original film, which it distributed theatrically for director George Lucas back in the day. Disney scooped up the “Star Wars” world with its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012.

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