Disney inks new Pay-TV deal with… Netflix?

For those who were thinking that perhaps the Walt Disney Company was preparing to launch a streaming media offering of its own in the US that could possibly act as a Netflix competitor (if not downright Netflix killer, considering the various pies in which the House of Mouse has its white-gloved fingers), then today’s latest VOD development might have come as a slight surprise: Disney has, in fact, signed a new deal with Netflix that will see the latter take over the television rights to the Disney properties come 2016. Who saw that one coming?

Officially, the deal means that Netflix will have the exclusive US rights to movies from Walt Disney Studios films for three years, starting in 2016, as well as non-exclusive streaming rights to movies in the Disney back catalog, including Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland and more recent animated fare including Pocahontas. The 2016 date marks the end of Disney’s existing TV rights deal with cable company Starz, which currently holds rights to Disney’s movie catalog and licenses certain titles for limited streaming release through Netflix.

Disney will release movies to Netflix for streaming at some point between seven and nine months after their theater release, according to those familiar with the deal (Far sooner than the existing Disney/Starz/Netflix relationship); it’s unknown whether the deal will mean that titles released to Netflix will remain available on the service indefinitely or, as has become traditional with Disney releases on DVD/BluRay or through television, be limited-time releases before being “put back in the Disney vault” to keep demand at a premium.

In a statement accompanying news of the deal, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos described the new partnership as a “a bold leap forward for Internet television,” adding that his company is “incredibly pleased and proud this iconic family brand is teaming with Netflix to make it happen.”

Sarandos’ mention of Netflix as an “Internet television” company is telling; for some time, the company has been competing with Starz, HBO and other cable outlets for TV rights to movies – In addition to the Disney deal, it currently has the exclusive TV rights to the output of indie studios Relativity Media and FilmDistrict, as well as certain television shows – and has famously been moving into television production this year with Lillyhammer, House of Cards and the much-anticipated Arrested Development revival.

It’ll be interesting to see what impact this Disney deal will have on Netflix’s standing as a “television company,” and how much traffic it will bring the service; after all, Disney movies doesn’t just mean Disney movies anymore; there’s also Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm movies mixed up in that now… which means Netflix doesn’t just have exclusive Avengers rights in four years, but exclusive Star Wars, too…

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