Disney Re-Names BAMTech ‘Disney Streaming Services,’ Outlines Direct-to-Consumer Strategy

Disney April 11 announced it has renamed its BAMTech backend technical company “Disney Streaming Services” as part of the 96-year-old media giant’s expansion into direct-to-consumer business.

Acquired for $2.5 billion in 2017 from Major League Baseball Advanced Media, BAMTech has powered numerous OTT services, including HBO Now, MLB.tv, PGA Tour Live, ESPN+, and NHL.tv, among others.

“This is an exciting day for the entire Disney family. It is also a challenging time,” CEO Bob Iger told attendees at the start of a three-hour investor day presentation in Los Angeles.

Subscribe HERE for the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The executive reiterated that Disney is entering the DTC ecosystem from a “position of strength, confidence and unbridled optimism.”

Iger said Disney is banking its future in part on digital distribution, including a new corporate segment — Direct-to-Consumer & International — featuring the pending Disney+ SVOD service, ESPN+, Hulu, Hulu with Live TV and Asia’s Hotstar ad-supported VOD platform with 300 million actively monthly users.

Kevin Mayer, chairman of DTC & International, said Disney’s foray into digital is based in part of a projected 1.1 billion high-speed Internet households worldwide by 2020 compared to 700 million in 2015.

Mayer said there will be 810 million DTC paid subscribers globally by the end of 2020 — growing 30% annually. With 1.2 billion hours of video streamed daily projected by 2020 compared to 260 million hours in 2015 — up 50% annually over a 10-year period.

[DTC] is becoming a a crowded marketplace, in which brands matter more than ever,” Mayer said. “We have the brands that matter most when it comes to great entertainment.”

Mayer said Disney three domestic DTC products — Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu — would target different market segments as standalone services and “likely be bundled to create even more value to consumers.”

Disney is eyeing a Latin America launch for ESPN+ as well.

Launching in November, Disney+ will feature catalog, current and original content from Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and National Geographic — the latter due to Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox.

Mayer said Hulu, which Disney assumed majority ownership stake following the Fox acquisition, represents Disney’s most-established DTC product.

“We’re actively evaluating international rollout strategies for [Hulu],” he said.

Disney said Hulu was the fast-growing domestic SVOD service in 2018, ending the year with 25 million subscribers since launching in 2008. Online TV service — Hulu with Live TV — launched in 2018. Viewing increased by 75%.

“Hulu is going to give consumers the right product at the right price,” said Hulu CEO Randy Freer.

A Lot Riding on ‘Disney Plus’ Unveiling

NEWS ANALYSIS – Much like Apple’s recent Apple TV+ media event, Disney’s April 11 investor unveiling of its branded Disney+ subscription streaming service promises to be the digital media story of the day.

CEO Bob Iger has said the over-the-top video product slated to launch in November is the media giant’s top priority in 2019.

In short, Disney is betting billions on the distribution channel – a strategy that included removing branded content (and sacrificing millions in license revenue) from pay-TV operators, Netflix and even theatrical.

Subscribe HERE for FREE Daily Newsletter!

Disney got the ball rolling in 2017 when it acquired backend streaming provider BAMTech from Major League Baseball Advanced Media for $2.5 billion. The company has powered numerous OTT services, including HBO Now, MLB.tv, PGA Tour Live, ESPN+, and NHL.tv, among others.

That acquisition, in addition to investment in ESPN+ and Disney+ resulted in an increased fiscal loss of $136 million in the most-recent fiscal period for Disney’s direct-to-consumer & international segment. That compared to a loss of $42 million during the previous-year period.

The DTC segment generated a fiscal loss of $738 million in 2018, up from a loss of $284 million in 2017.

Disney needs Disney+ to succeed where its previous OTT attempt, DisneyLife, has stumbled. The $13 monthly SVOD service launched in the U.K. in 2015 and briefly in China before being shut down there by the government.

DisneyLife in the U.K. reportedly has been challenged by a lack of original content and branded movies licensed to third-party distributors such as Sky. As a result, Disney is holding back current theatrical hit Captain Marvel from the pay-TV window for Disney+.

“In all cases, the results [for DisneyLife] were bleak,” according to Bernstein Research as reported by The Wall Street Journal. “It might even be described as a ‘failure.’ ”

Regardless, Disney+ plans to launch anchored by the “Star Wars” and “High School Musical” franchises. Jon Favreau is directing a Star Wars spin-off series, “The Mandalorian.” A series based on Monsters, Inc. is in the works as well.

Interestingly, Kenny Ortega — producer/director of “High School Musical” — just signed a production deal with Netflix.

NATO Boss Chides Press for Streaming Video Focus

NEWS ANALYSIS — Helen Mirren may have gotten the most attention at this week’s CinemaCon confab in Las Vegas for her snarky, “I love Netflix, but f*** Netflix,” comment.

But for John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Operators, media attention to over-the-top video and home entertainment is no laughing matter. Fithian reportedly told reporters that continued attention to streaming undermines success at the global box office, which topped $41.7 billion in 2018 – up 32% since 2010.

NATO president John Fithian

“There’s no doubt that home entertainment consumption moves toward streaming [from disc] more with each passing day,” Fithian told attendees. “How does any given movie stand out among endless choices in the home? A robust theatrical release provides a level of prestige that cannot be replicated.”

He cited a study conducted by Ernst & Young that found consumers who frequent movie theaters consume more streaming video in the home.

“Streaming and theatrical don’t just co-exist, they reinforce each other,” Fithian said.

Subscribe HERE for FREE Daily Newsletter!

Of course the executive was channeling Netflix, which didn’t attend CinemaCon, but whose looming industry presence continues to undermine the theatrical window releasing movies into streaming channels concurrent with any cinema exhibition.

The practice has roiled exhibitors in the U.S. and France, which have boycotted Netflix movies and challenged its award nominations, notably at the Cannes Film Festival. Regardless, the Motion Picture Association of America recently accepted Netflix among its studio members.

Indeed, Netflix is hardly the only streaming threat. With Disney, WarnerMedia and Comcast set to launch branded SVOD platforms, direct-to-consumer distribution and original content remains a threat — a reality Disney CEO Bob Iger has taken steps to address by insisting the perennial domestic box office leader will remain faithful to the theatrical window.

“We have a studio that is doing extremely well and a [release window] formula that is serving us really well in terms of its bottom line,” Iger said on last November’s fiscal call.

With Kevin Tsujihara out at Warner Bros., efforts to release studio films early into homes through premium VOD are likely over.

Tsujihara, who was forced out following a sex scandal, was initially promoted to the chairman position in large part because of his expertise advocating for alternative distribution channels while heading Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Disney’s Iger Cites ‘Historic Day’ Closing Fox Acquisition

Following the official completion of the Walt Disney Co.’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and related businesses at 12:02 a.m. ET March 20, Disney CEO Bob Iger sent out an internal memo to combined staff calling the deal “a historic day for our company.”

The histrionics of the merger are just beginning in what could reportedly result in the elimination of more than 4,000 positions.

“I wish I could tell you that the hardest part is behind us; that closing the deal was the finish line, rather than just the next milestone,” wrote Iger. “What lies ahead is the challenging work of uniting our businesses to create a dynamic, global entertainment company with the content, the platforms, and the reach to deliver industry-defying experiences that will engage consumers around the world for generations to come.”

Aside from the previously reported high-profile departure of 20th Century Fox Film chairman/CEO Stacey Snider, studio vice chairman Emma Watts, Elizabeth Gabler, head of Fox 2000, and Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, co-heads at Fox Searchlight, are transitioning to Disney.

Other senior executives making the move include Andrea Miloro and Robert Baird, co-presidents, Fox Animation, and Vanessa Morrison, president, Fox Family. All report to Alan Horn, chairman Walt Disney Studios, and Watts.

In his memo, Iger called for patience during the integration process, which he said would impact some businesses more than others.

“We may not have answers to all of your questions at this moment, but we understand how vital information is and we’re committed to moving as quickly as possible to provide clarity regarding how your role may be impacted,” he wrote.

The deal includes 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox Family and Fox Animation; Fox’s television creative units, 20th Century Fox Television, FX Productions and Fox21; FX Networks; National Geographic Partners; Fox Networks Group International; Star India; and Fox’s interests in Hulu, Tata Sky and Endemol Shine Group.

As part of the deal, Disney has agreed to sell 21st Century Fox’s Regional Sports Networks.

Disney’s $71B Fox Acquisition Effective After Midnight

The Walt Disney Co. announced that its $71.3 billion purchase of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. officially goes into effect at 12:02 a.m. ET on March 20.

The deal includes 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox Family and Fox Animation; Fox’s television creative units, 20th Century Fox Television, FX Productions and Fox21; FX Networks; National Geographic Partners; Fox Networks Group International; Star India; and Fox’s interests in Hulu, Tata Sky and Endemol Shine Group.

As part of the deal, Disney has agreed to sell 21st Century Fox’s Regional Sports Networks.

Disney is also acquiring approximately $19.8 billion in cash and assuming approximately $19.2 billion of debt of 21st Century Fox in the acquisition. The deal price implies a total equity value of approximately $71 billion and a total transaction value of approximately $71 billion.

“This is an extraordinary and historic moment for us — one that will create significant long-term value for our company and our shareholders,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “Combining Disney’s and 21st Century Fox’s wealth of creative content and proven talent creates the preeminent global entertainment company, well positioned to lead in an incredibly dynamic and transformative era.”

 

 

Disney+ Is a Safe-Cracker

Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger’s announcement that the studio would abandon its long-standing “vault” strategy for its upcoming subscription streaming service is perhaps one of the most shocking shifts in an industry rocked by change.

At the March 7 shareholder meeting in St. Louis, he said that the studio would pull movies from its vault and offer them all on the pending Disney+ service.

“At some point fairly soon after launching, [Disney+] will house the entire Disney motion picture library,” Iger said. “So, movies that have traditionally been kept in the vault, and basically been brought out every few years, will be on the [streaming] service.”

The vault strategy, exploited by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment for decades, involved putting select movies, mostly animated classics such as BambiThe Lion King, and The Little Mermaid, on retail moratorium for several years to wait for a new crop of children to come along. Oft termed “treasures” or “platinum” or “gold” editions when they emerged after seven years or so for a re-release, they were snapped up at $20 to $30 apiece by eager parents, purchases made all the more urgent by the studio warning that they would soon go back into the vault. When these classic films came out, often in a new format, they shot to the top of the sales charts.

It took the digital entertainment revolution to finally crack the Disney vault — but is it a heist? If enough subscribers sign on to Disney+ at a high enough subscription price, offering a panoply of content may be a lucrative investment, but it could also devalue some of the studio’s most valuable jewels.

Disney Moving All ‘Vault’ Movies to Streaming Service

Disney plans to move all legacy original movie franchises such as The Lion King, 101 Dalmatians, Bambi and The Little Mermaid from its “vault” and onto the pending Disney+ subscription streaming service.

CEO Bob Iger alluded to the change March 7 during the media giant’s annual shareholder meeting in St. Louis.

“At some point fairly soon after launching, [Disney+] will house the entire Disney motion picture library,” Iger said. “So, movies that have traditionally been kept in the vault, and basically been brought out every few years, will be on the [streaming] service,” Iger said.

The Disney Vault was a marketing plan originated by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment that put select packaged media release movies, animated features and sequels on retail moratorium.

Disney advertising urged consumers to purchase select titles before they “go into the vault” for a period of years, a move studio marketers felt heightened retail demand.

The marketing was successful as Finding Nemo and Beauty and the Beast rank as the top-selling DVD and sixth best-selling Blu-ray Disc titles, respectively, in the United States.

Nemo, which was released in 2003, has generated more than $677 million from sales of nearly 39 million DVDs. Beast has generated $102 million from 4.5 million Blu-ray units sold.

 

 

 

 

 

Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer Biz Widens Q1 Operating Loss

Disney CEO Bob Iger says over-the-top video is the media giant’s future and No. 1 goal in 2019.

That future is expensive, too.

Disney Feb. 5 reported that first-quarter (ended Dec. 29, 2018) operating losses from the direct-to-consumer & international segment increased from $42 million in the previous-year period to $136 million. Revenue decreased 1% to $918 million from $931 million. The dip reflected a 4% decrease from an unfavorable foreign currency impact.

The increase in operating loss was due to the ongoing investment ramp-up in ESPN+, which launched last April and has about 2 million subscribers, a loss from streaming technology services and costs associated with the upcoming Q4 launch of Disney+, partially offset by an increase at the company’s international channels and a lower equity loss from its investment in Hulu.

Increased revenue at international channels was due to lower costs, affiliate revenue growth and higher program sales, partially offset by an unfavorable foreign currency impact.

Results for Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast and WarnerMedia, reflected increases in subscription and advertising revenue, partially offset by higher programming costs. The service has more than 25 million subscribers.

“We look forward to the transformative year ahead, including the successful completion of our 21st Century Fox acquisition and the launch of our Disney+ streaming service,” Iger said in a statement. “Building a robust direct-to-consumer business is our top priority, and we continue to invest in exceptional content and innovative technology to drive our success in this space.”

CFO: Comcast Wants ‘Healthy’ Relationship with Hulu

Hulu, the subscription streaming video service and online TV platform co-owned by Disney, Fox, Comcast and WarnerMedia, is valued by its corporate parents at more than $9 billion – despite posting hundreds of millions of dollars in equity losses.

Disney’s pending close of its $71 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film, which includes Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu, will make the media giant majority owner going forward.

With WarnerMedia revealing a desire to sell its 10% Hulu stake, that leaves Comcast as a minority stakeholder to Disney’s vision for the 11-year-old over-the-top video platform going forward.

Speaking on last month’s fiscal call, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company planned to incorporate Fox’s television production to up original programming at Hulu.

“We feel [that] will enable Hulu to compete even more aggressively in the marketplace,” said Iger.

Meanwhile, Comcast reported a $132 million equity loss at Hulu for the fiscal period ended Sept. 30 – up from an equity loss of $62 million during the previous-year period. Through nine months Hulu generated a $370 million equity loss for Comcast – more than double the cabler’s $168 million equity loss last year.

Speaking Dec. 4 at the UBS 46th Annual Global Media and Communications confab in New York, Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh reiterated the company’s support for Hulu and belief that “some form of direct-to-consumer” product “will make sense for us.”

Whether that includes Hulu remains to be seen. Cavanagh wouldn’t offer any insight on possible changes in management’s mindset, saying only that the platform remained a good home for select NBC Universal programming.

“We want to continue to have a healthy relationship with Hulu,” he said. “We think much of our content finds a great home on that platform. And one way or the other, we want to make sure we have a good and healthy and constructive for everybody ongoing relationship with Hulu.”

 

Disney Has Big Plans for Hulu

Hulu may be losing millions in equity for its corporate parents, but that isn’t stopping The Walt Disney Co. from dreaming big going forward about the 11-year-old SVOD service and online TV platform.

Disney, which attributed $10 million in Q4 equity losses to higher programming, marketing and labor costs at Hulu, partially offset by growth in subscription (20+ million) and advertising revenue, will become majority (60%) owner of the SVOD when its acquisition of 20thCentury Fox Film Corp. is finalized.

Hulu’s other corporate owners include Comcast (30%) and WarnerMedia (10%).

Speaking Nov. 8 on the fiscal call, Disney CEO Bob Iger thinks Hulu’s sub growth, brand strength and user demographics portend an opportunity to increase investment in Hulu – especially on programming.

“With this [Fox] acquisition comes not only some great IP, but some excellent talent, particularly on the television side,” Iger said. “And we aim to use the television production capabilities of the combined company to fuel Hulu with a lot more original programming … [content] that we feel will enable Hulu to compete even more aggressively in the marketplace.”

Specifically, Iger cited Hulu’s younger user base – apparently 20 years younger than competitors Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – and penchant for off-network content.

“And that’s clearly attractive to advertisers, which I think has been somewhat underappreciated about Hulu in that it … can offer targeted ads,” Iger said.

Hulu’s base $7.99 subscription plan features ad-supported content, while the $11.99 plan is ad-free. Iger says the service – especially the $39.99 Hulu With Live TV – has some price elasticity of demand.

“I think there’s an opportunity to improve – or I should say increase our pricing there,” he said.

Notably, Iger envisions Hulu focusing on general and edgier entertainment (i.e. Fox’s “American Horror Story” and R-rated movies), with Disney+ catering to softer fare.

“We’ll leave the more family-oriented programming to the Disney+ app,” he said.