In what is believed to be the biggest movie package sold to ad-supported TV networks, Turner has closed a domestic licensing deal with The Walt Disney Studios for the linear basic cable and companion ad-supported on-demand rights to 10 Star Wars movies — last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this year’s standalone Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the next three yet-to-be-released movies in the franchise as well as five of the six previous Star Wars films. Additionally, Turner has secured the only Star Wars movie whose rights are not controlled by Lucasfilm/Disney, the original Star Wars: A New Hope, via a separate arrangement with 20th Century Fox, becoming the only basic cable company holding rights to all 11 titles in the collection.
Turner and Walt Disney Studios are not commenting, but sources estimate that the 10-title package is in the neighborhood of $200 million price range. Its sale comes after a highly atypical, year-long on-and-off process. Disney first sent out feelers that it was going to shop The Force Awakens (and other Star Wars movies) a year ago, ahead of the movie’s December premiere. That ultimately didn’t happen, and the movie was officially taken out at NATPE in January. But even after that, the Star Wars package was on the market, then off, then on again, with the selling paused a number of times. Still, the buyers came out in full force. There virtually was no basic cable network that did not bid for the movies, but Turner was the most aggressive from the get-go, blowing the others out of the water.
Using Star Wars as leverage, I hear the Disney package also includes other — mostly underperforming movies, something that is common practice when highly sought after titles are in play. I hear that includes recent releases Alice Through the Looking Glass and Pete’s Dragon. Another aspect of the deal is that it only includes ad-supported on-demand rights, not commercial-free SVOD rights which are part of Disney’s deals with Starz (for The Force Awakens) and Starz’s successor Netflix for the next Star Wars films. It remains to be seen if viewers, who are used to streaming movies with no ads, will embrace watching Star Wars with commercials on demand.
The highly competitive nature of the bidding for the Star Wars package also underscores the increasing value of movies for ad-supported cable networks as they rival and often exceed the ratings performance of off-network series, once the cornerstone of acquired programming.
Turner will kick off the Star Wars run with a six-night marathon on TNT featuring the first six movies which starts September 20. The films will also air in December, in conjunction with Disney’s theatrical release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will make its TNT debut in early 2018, followed in 2019 by this year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
“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, EVP 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.”
This is the second big package of Disney-released movies for TNT, which in 2014 closed a deal with Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment for five movies, including Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Marvel’s Captain America 3.
Here is the schedule for the six-night Star Wars launch event on TNT:
Tuesday, Sept. 20
8 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
11 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Wednesday, Sept. 21
8 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
11:05 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
Thursday, Sept. 22
8 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
11:05 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Friday, Sept. 23
8 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: A New Hope
10:45 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: A New Hope
Saturday, Sept. 24
10:45 a.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
1:45 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
4:55 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
8 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
10:45 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Sunday, Sept. 25
5:15 a.m. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
8:15 a.m. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
11:20 a.m. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
2:25 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: A New Hope
5:10 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
8 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
11 p.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
2 a.m. (ET/PT) – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
The Star Wars Saga
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) rescue Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), ruler of a peaceful planet invaded by dark forces. On their escape, they discover nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a child prodigy who is unusually strong in the Force.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
When Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is assigned to protect Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), he discovers his love for her…and his own darker side. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) uncovers a secret clone army as the galaxy marches towards full-scale war.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Clone Wars rage across the galaxy. The sinister Sith Lord seizes control of the Republic and corrupts Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to be his dark apprentice, Darth Vader. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) must confront his fallen friend in an epic lightsaber duel.
Star Wars: A New Hope
Young farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is thrust into a galaxy of adventure when he intercepts a distress call from the captive Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). The event launches him on a daring mission to rescue her from the clutches of Darth Vader and the evil Empire.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
The Rebels scatter after the Empire attacks their base on the ice planet Hoth. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are pursued by Imperials, while Luke (Mark Hamill) trains with Jedi Master Yoda. Luke must battle Darth Vader and learns the shocking truth of his past.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The Empire prepares to crush the Rebellion with a more powerful Death Star. The Rebel fleet counters with a massive attack on the space station. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) confronts Darth Vader in a final climactic duel.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
As Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the sinister First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing when the galaxy needs him most. It’s up to Rey (Daisy Ridley), a desert scavenger, and Finn (John Boyega), a defecting stormtrooper, to join forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca in a desperate search for the one hope of restoring peace to the galaxy.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things and, in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.