By Joe Flint and David Marcelis
It might take a wizard to figure out where to stream the "Harry Potter" movies.
AT&T Inc.'s HBO Max is losing the Harry Potter franchise on Aug. 25, less than three months after the streaming service's launch. The movies will become available on Comcast Corp.'s rival streaming service Peacock starting in October, the result of an unusual compromise between the two companies.
All eight "Harry Potter" movies were produced and distributed by Warner Bros.' studio, which like HBO Max is part of AT&T's WarnerMedia. But the television rights are held by Comcast's NBCUniversal, which secured them a time when neither AT&T nor Comcast had a streaming service in the works.
The franchise's short stay on HBO Max is rare in an industry where programming deals typically run several years. The only reason HBO Max got to offer Harry Potter when it launched is that NBCUniversal agreed to let it have it for a few months while its Peacock streaming service wasn't yet available nationwide. Peacock launched on July 15.
NBCUniversal has had the commercial television rights for the "Harry Potter" movies since 2018, as part of a seven-year deal with Warner Bros. valued at as much as $250 million. The deal, which was reached in 2016, also included digital rights, but didn't foresee the existence of either Peacock or HBO Max.
That NBCUniversal holds the rights to such a big franchise owned by a rival harks back to the pre-streaming wars era of entertainment. Now companies such as NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia primarily seek to make and keep content on their own platforms instead of selling it to the highest bidder, as was the case in the 2016 "Harry Potter" deal.
Earlier this year, WarnerMedia's senior leadership -- including new Chief Executive Jason Kilar -- reached out to NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell and negotiated a small window for the "Harry Potter" movies to be shown on HBO Max from its May launch to Aug. 25.
In return, Warner Bros. has agreed to a short extension of NBCUniversal's deal for the movies, people familiar with the matter said.
The back-and-forth of the "Harry Potter" movies is a testament to both their popularity and the willingness of two rival companies that each may have been able to lay claim to the films' streaming rights to opt for a compromise over a legal fight.
The deal is a win-win, said Frances Manfredi, Peacock's president of content acquisition and strategy. "We need to be able to create a level of robust offerings for our viewers and the only way to get there is to aggregate across studios," she said.
A representative for HBO Max declined to comment.
The Harry Potter movies will stream on Peacock for six months starting in October. The movies will then again be available on NBCU's cable channels including USA and Syfy. The movies are expected to resurface on Peacock eventually as well.
The companies could negotiate an eventual return to HBO Max for the "Harry Potter" movies, the people familiar with the matter said, though there is no agreement in place to do so.
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