You Won't Find Harry Potter on HBO Max, Thanks to Streaming's Weird New Normal

What I imagine talks between Warner Media and NBC Universal look like round about now.
What I imagine talks between Warner Media and NBC Universal look like round about now.
Image: Warner Bros.

You might assume that Warner Bros.’ big new streaming service would have one of the studio’s biggest movie franchises available when it launches, but it won’t. And the reason is...well, actually kind of depressing for anyone who isn’t Warner Bros., really.

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The news was confirmed recently during the Television Critics Association winter press tour (as reported by Vanity Fair). Michael Quigley, executive vice president of content acquisitions at WarnerMedia’s TNT, TBS, TruTV, HBO, and HBOMax—ah, megacorporations—flatly acknowledged that Harry and his wizarding friends will not be apparating themselves alongside the Justice League or the Studio Ghibli back catalog. “Harry Potter is tied up with another programming group,” Quigley simply told gathered press. That programming group? NBCUniversal.

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Back in 2016, Warner signed a major licensing deal with the network for exclusive broadcast and cable access to the Harry Potter movies and their spinoff siblings in the then-upcoming Fantastic Beasts franchise. The deal—covering on-air and digital rights for not just the films, but featurettes, 3D re-releases, director’s cuts, and other content associated with J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World—was inked to last through to April 2025, a fact that the Warner Bros. of 2020 is probably kicking itself over.

Instead, Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts will be found on Peacock, NBC’s own upcoming proprietary streaming service. Because that’s how we live now: Everyone has their own streaming app, because you paying one or two subscriptions a month to get access to many things is much more inconvenient for these studios’ bottom line than you paying for what feels like a dozen instead, between the likes of AppleTV+, Peacock, Disney+, HBOMax, CBS All Access, and more.

The announcement of Disney+ might have really kickstarted the current, rapid transition we’ve seen of large media brands getting into the streaming space with their own walled gardens, but it’s sort of been the track the medium has been leaning toward in recent years. The convenience of being able to stream old favorites anywhere that spurred the meteoric rise of Netflix and its ilk has slowly but surely given way to original content and exclusivity deals—look at, for example, yesterday’s news that the Studio Ghibli film library will be available globally on Netflix starting February 1 everywhere but Japan and North America, the latter thanks to HBOMax’s own exclusivity grab for the library, announced last October.

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What remains to be seen in Harry’s specific case is if Warner will attempt to extricate the boy wizard from NBC—just as Disney strong-armed its way out of previously arranged broadcast deals with TBS and TNT to ensure it could have the original Star Wars movies available on Disney+ in time for launch. It seems that after spending years spreading out the rights to these properties far and wide, in the age of more walled gardens in streaming than ever before, their original masters want them back—mainly so they can offer them to you again on their own terms.

Those terms being “give us money directly, thanks.”


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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

Perfect opportunity to bring this up, even though it’s entirely unrelated to either NBC, Warner, or Harry Potter, lol. Just another case of the weird new normal...

What’s the deal with The CW and streaming? They have no avenue to watch all of the episodes of a current season. For example if you got behind on a show you liked and needed to get caught up. Their app and website only show the last 5 episodes that have aired, including re-runs. So they’ll have, say, episodes 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9. because those were what had most recently aired. They say it’s because of “legal reasons” related to streaming. Yet no other streaming service is showing those episodes. You can’t even watch CW shows on demand from your cable provider. It’s not even listed as a channel that you can watch on demand.

Anyone else have more experience with this or know what their deal is? No other network seems to have this issue. How do you have a legal issue where you can’t stream your own programming on your own app and no one else can either?