20 years later, and streaming Harry Potter is still too complicated

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or The Philosopher’s Stonedepending on your location) came to cinemas 20 years ago today. It started the eighth film adaptation of the hugely popular children’s book series, which ended with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 a decade ago in 2011.

In that time became Potter movies have become a magnet for marathon running, not least driven by fan-favorite Freeform (born ABC Family) broadcasts of the movies. ABC actually picked up the rights to the series a few weeks after the first movie even hit theaters, and reportedly spent about $ 140 million to be able to air the first two movies.

The network spent the next decade collecting the broadcast rights to the remaining films as they were released, culminating in the debut of The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in the winter of 2013. Freeform would continue to spend the next half decade regularly airing the entire Potter saga across weekends, especially around holidays (which holiday meant nothing special).

Unlike most larger properties, Harry Potter spent most of its two decades of existence unavailable on streaming services, except for short stays on HBO. It was a relic of an older film era before the Internet, where TV rights and DVD sales were the priority of the day after ticket sales, and the idea of ​​Netflix as a streaming service was just a glimpse of an idea in Reed Hasting’s head.

Harry Potter

Photo: Warner Bros.

It all ended, however, in 2016. Disney’s ABC rights were due to expire in late 2017, and the Potter franchise was suddenly a hugely valuable chip for Warner Bros. The rights were split, with NBCUniversal acquiring the cable rights to SyFy and the United States (and its digital platforms) for an estimated $ 250 million, with streaming going to Warner Bros. sister company HBO.

Timing here is also key. 2016 was the year before AT&T would buy Time Warner, the creation of WarnerMedia, or the announcement that the new branded company would form its own streaming service, which would eventually be named HBO Max.

In 2021, it’s important to have popular fan-favorite streaming content, a lesson that has been proven time and time again by the expensive purchase of rights to things like. Seinfeld or The office. But that lesson was far less clear when the Potter rights were last in the air. And now with NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia both trying to get their own streaming service up to speed, it’s become more important than ever to have the Harry Potter movies recreate the rosy memories of ABC Family weekends.

The result is a dizzying tug of war between the two services that have seen the Potter films bounce back and forth from Peacock to HBO Max and back again every few months, since the two services were both launched in April and May 2020.

From the time of publication, the series is available on both platforms (so far), but with NBCUniversal’s agreement not set to expire before 2025, the odds are that Potter will continue to move around thanks to the complex licensing maze for the next few years.

So where does all this leave a Harry Potter fan just looking to be able to binge-watch with the boy wizard on a weekend whim? Well, you can try to keep track of where the Potter rights are in a given month. (The Internet has no shortage of sites that want to monetize SEO games to try to answer that question.) You can admit defeat and pay for both HBO Max’s $ 14.99 per. month and Peacock Premium’s $ 4.99 per. month fee to ensure consistent Potter playback.

But I would suggest cutting right through the Gordian knot of terrible licensing deals and pulling a card from the network’s book: like ABC, NBC or HBO, just buy a copy of the movie from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu or whatever digital dealer you prefer. Heck, buy a Blu-Ray if you have room for discs and something to watch them on.

The Harry Potter movies support the Movies Anywhere digital locker system, so if you buy them on one platform, you can sync them to just about any major service. The purchased copies offer, unlike both Peacock and HBO Max, 4K resolution and Dolby Vision HDR. And the movies are regularly for sale. (At the time of release, there is a wide discount of $ 59.99 on the eight movie series on Google Play, iTunes and Vudu for the 4K versions.)

In addition, once purchased, the movies are actually yours (or at least as much yours as any digitally purchased movie can be, which is the best one can hope for in 2021) to go on a marathon on a whim, anytime you feel like it.

Streaming should be the big answer to the whimsical cable calendar that promised a world where any movie could be watched whenever you want. But Harry Potter is the perfect storm of fighting brands, where the simplest solution is simply to just give up completely.

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