Does Disney Have an Advantage in the ‘Licensing Wars’?

Author : Reed Mendoza | Published On : 02 Mar 2024

It’s starting to feel a lot like old times in the streaming marketplace. The commercial break is back, albeit with a slight facelift, and licensing is once again becoming a viable way to keep productions earning after their initial run on their home streaming network. As more and more streamers look to licensing to help pad their bottom lines, does Disney have an advantage? Our expert entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, Brandon Blake of Blake & Wang P.A., peeks under the surface of this developing trend.

Brandon Blake

The Power of Licensable Content

The so-called ‘licensing Renaissance’ is here, and it is real. There’s been a pervasive need to get more bang (or should that be ‘bank’?) from streaming properties for a while now. No matter how successful or star-studded a production’s original run, it can only bring in so much revenue during that time.

For decades, licensing to other distributors once out of the production’s premier window was a go-to Hollywood strategy to drive residuals and income. With the advent of the streaming age, however, this faded away, with many of the initial streaming platforms (Yes, Netflix, we are looking at you) touting ‘exclusivity’ as a drawcard to push up subscriptions.

However, as streaming has proliferated into the mainstream, this has had two unintended side effects. Firstly, driving a content ‘boom’ that, for the most part, puts undue pressure for continuous new content on the streaming houses, often to the exclusion of all other considerations. Including profitability and production values. Secondly, what has been made has been ‘lost’ after its initial run on the service, condemned to wait unheeded until a suitable opportunity for a rerun on the streamer itself occurred.

We saw this false focus on ‘exclusivity’ fall away in a big way last year, spearheaded by the unprecedentedly popular run of Suits on Netflix. With licensing set to enjoy this renaissance, however, some streamers are better placed than others to leverage its power.

The Power of Disney Brands

Disney is far from the only streaming platform with some seriously marketable content. After all, Amazon is now sitting pretty on all of MGM’s old properties in addition to their newer ones. Warner Bros Discovery is widely held to be responsible for the rise in interest in licensing, thanks to some key deals with Netflix, Amazon, and Tubi. However, Disney certainly has some very powerful licensable content.

Ampere Analysis recently took this a step further, identifying ‘licensing power’ among our existing streamers. It defined this as scripted TV series that have finished their first run, have at least 3 seasons to draw on, and still attract viewers. Under these criteria, Disney stands head-and-shoulders above other studios, with more than double the number of titles- including hit series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer- on offer.

Naturally, that’s just an analysis. We’re still in the opening volleys of the renewed interest in licensing. However, as the success of Suit’s second run, almost a decade after its initial release, aptly shows, viewer appetite for these repeated runs is stronger than was initially considered.

Streamers have a tough job ahead. There’s a balance to be struck between exclusive content and non-exclusive content to create an overall package that is still compelling and distinct, while still maximizing the value of each property and a potential second window. 2024 is bound to be a year in which we see this interest in content licensing boom. Will Disney take advantage of the IP goldmine they are sitting on? Only time can tell.