Hulu Expands 4K Content Access Beyond Apple, Google Chromecast Devices

Hulu, which dropped 4K content in 2018 after launching access in 2016, reintroduced 4K content this summer exclusively to subscribers using Apple TV and Google Chromecast. Hulu 4K content in 2016 was limited to Sony PlayStation 4 Pro.

The Disney-owned SVOD with 28 million domestic subs Oct. 14 announced it is expanding 4K access to Xbox One consoles — reportedly with plans to include Amazon Fire TV and LG smart TVs pending.

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Hulu 4K content, which requires a 4k UHD TV but doesn’t support high-dynamic range (HDR), is limited to original programming such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The First,” “Castle Rock,” “Ramy,” “Atlanta,” and “Catch-22,” among others.

The expansion comes as Disney plans to bundle Hulu with ESPN+ and pending SVOD service, Disney+ for $12.99 monthly.

 

ESPN, CBS Launching Programming on Quibi Streaming App

In the ongoing gold rush to capture over-the-top video market share, former DreamWorks Animation boss Jeffrey Katzenberg is taking an alternative path through mobile video.

His start-up $5 monthly streaming app, Quibi, is targeting short-attention millennials and youth glued to portable media devices consuming “bite-sized” entertainment no longer than a few minutes in length.

Now Disney-owned ESPN and CBS have agreed to produce extensions of their programming for the platform.

ESPN will be the exclusive multi-sport content domestic provider for Quibi’s curated news and information programming, “Daily Essentials.” The new ESPN show, available only on Quibi, will feature daily episodes and breaking news covering the biggest stories in sports.

“We’re looking forward to taking the best of what we do and delivering it in a way that resonates with Quibi subscribers looking to be informed, entertained and engaged around the sports news of the day,” Connor Schell, EVP of content, ESPN, said in a statement.

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Katzenberg said the ESPN show would deliver the biggest moments in sports around the world in under 10 minutes.

“We’re excited to … deliver a daily curated sports highlight show that gives the audience on-the-go exactly what they want,” he said.

Meanwhile, CBS is producing, “60 in 6,” featuring a new six-minute version of “60 Minutes” on Quibi showcasing different stories and younger correspondents than the venerable news show.

“It’s going to be ‘60 Minutes’ in a shorter version,” Bill Owens, executive producer of the weekly show, told the Los Angeles Times. “We won’t change the reporting or the way we tell our stories. It’s just the platform that’s changing.”

 

Disney Stops Running Netflix Ads on its Networks

The streaming video wars are heating up.

With Disney set to launch a branded $6.99 subscription streaming video service (Disney+) on Nov. 12, it has reportedly begun circling the wagons around its media brands — denying Netflix ads from airing on select entertainment networks.

Netflix, in a shrewd marketing move, had apparently upped running ad-spots specifically on Disney networks.

Impacted properties include ABC (notably the Oscars), FX, Freedom and National Geographic. Disney will still accept Netflix advertising on ESPN since the SVOD pioneer does not stream live sports.

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In a statement first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Disney said that as the “direct-to-consumer business has evolved, with many more entrants looking to advertise in traditional television, and across our portfolio networks … [it has] “reevaluated our strategy to reflect the comprehensive business relationships have with many of these companies, as direct-to-consumer is one element.”

While rival media/tech companies also ready proprietary streaming services, it is unknown if their marketing has been impacted by Disney’s move.

But then they aren’t Netflix, which with more than 150 million subscribers worldwide, dominates the SVOD ecosystem.

In 2017, Disney began pulling back original movies (i.e. Star Wars, Pixar) and select Marvel programming from Netflix as it began assembling Disney+. The move was noteworthy considering the two companies in 2015 inked a landmark distribution deal making Netflix the exclusive pay-TV distributor for Disney movies.

In a related move, Disney CEO Bob Iger removed himself from the board of Apple as the tech giant readies a reboot of its Apple TV platform to include subscription streaming video and original content.

 

Disney’s ESPN+ Streaming Service Soon Home to German Bundesliga Soccer

Disney-owned sports subscription streaming video service, ESPN+, will become in 2020 the U.S. home for the Bundesliga, Germany’s top professional soccer league.

Launched last year, ESPN+ costs $5 monthly, or $50 annually, featuring sports and related content not available on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, ESPN Classic and ESPN News.

“With a strong connection to the American soccer community, a growing audience in the U.S. and some of the most well-known clubs and players in the world, the addition of the Bundesliga further cements ESPN+ as a must-have for any soccer fan,” Russell Wolf, EVP and GM, ESPN+, said in a statement.

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The Bundesliga joins an extensive lineup of soccer on ESPN+ that features over 2,000 top football matches per year from around the world, including exclusive coverage in the US of Italy’s Serie A, the UEFA Nations League, England’s FA Cup and EFL, MLS, the Dutch Eredivisie and more.

Robert Klein, CEO of Bundesliga International, said the deal underscores that Germany continues to be an important source of talent for U.S. national soccer teams.

“With ESPN+, we’re excited to take fans on their journey in the lead up to their home World Cup in 2026,” Klein said.

The service is also streaming 22 matches of the West African Football Union (WAFU) Cup of Nations, which began Sept. 28  from the Stade Lat Dior in Thies, Senegal.

 

Disney+ Preorders Open to the Public

Disney Sept. 22 opened monthly and annual preorders for U.S. consumers to sign up early for its subscription service Disney+, launching Nov. 12.

Monthly and annual subscriptions are available at $6.99 and $69.99, respectively, with a seven-day free trial beginning Nov. 12.

In its first year, Disney+ will release more than 25 original series and 10 original films, including “The Mandalorian,” from executive producer and writer Jon Favreau, and Lady and the Tramp, a retelling of the 1955 animated classic — both streaming on Nov. 12, according to a Disney release.

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Subscribers can access up to four concurrent streams, unlimited downloads, personalized recommendations, and the ability to set up to seven different profiles, including the ability for parents to set kids profiles.

As previously announced, on Nov. 12, consumers in the United States will have the opportunity to purchase a bundled offering of Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu (with ads) for $12.99 per month. Consumers interested in the bundle should wait until it becomes available at launch on Nov. 12, according to Disney.

Disney since the D23 Expo in August has already been signing up members of Disney-affiliated organizations for multiyear subscriptions to the service with deep-discounted promotional offers. Members of D23, the official Disney fan club, were offered a free year of the service when signing up for a three-year plan. And Disney Visa cardholders were offered $20 off a two-year subscription or $40 off three years.

For more information and/or to sign-up early to Disney+, visit disneyplus.com.

Disney to Bundle Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu for $12.99, on Par with Netflix

With costs increasing exponentially as Disney prepares for the Nov. 12 launch of a branded subscription streaming video service (Disney+), CEO Bob Iger on the company’s Aug. 6 fiscal call disclosed an aggressive pricing strategy aimed at Netflix.

In addition to offering Disney+ for $6.99 monthly, the media giant will bundle the SVOD with ESPN+ and Hulu for $12.99 — about on par with the most popular Netflix subscription.

“Nothing is more important to us than getting this right,” Iger said on the call.

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Indeed, with Disney not projecting a profit from Disney+ for five years, costs associated with the rollout and assimilation of 100% ownership of Hulu continue to escalate.

Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer & International segment increased Q3 operating loss to $553 million from an operating loss of $168 million during the previous-year period. Revenue increased from $827 million to $3.85 billion.

And Wall Street isn’t impressed as Disney shares are down almost 4% in aftermarket trading.

Bob Iger: Disney Prepared to ‘Pivot’ in New Direction with Hulu Ownership

Disney’s acquisition of Comcast’s 33% stake in Hulu for total control of the SVOD platform is part of the Mickey Mouse company’s move toward engaging with consumers directly, CEO Bob Iger told an investor group.

The transaction also enables Disney to roll out Hulu and Disney+ internationally unfettered by possible conflicts with Comcast’s ownership of Sky and streaming service Now TV.

Speaking May 14 at the 6th Annual MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York, Iger said full control of Hulu (and Hulu with Live TV) coupled with ESPN+ and Disney+ streaming service (launching Nov. 12) would enable the company to target consumers separately through sports, TV content and movies, or collectively in a digital bundle.

“Managing your customers seamlessly across platforms, I think, has real value,” Iger said. “We have the ability to leverage the content engines in the company [Fox, FX, ABC, Disney, etc.] in a significant way here.”

For example, the executive envisions content creators such as FX and ABC producing programming for streaming on top of their pay-TV and broadcast channels.

“There’s a lot to this [internal synergies],” he said.

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Iger said his focus on direct-to-consumer distribution occurred on a “fateful” day in August 2015 when he claimed to be “rather candid” on an earnings call about the state of the pay-TV ecosystem, and ESPN in particular.

“We were seeing the disruptive effect of technology on traditional businesses,” Iger said, adding that none of the Disney business units (i.e. movies and TV shows) at the time — outside of the Disney Store and theme parks — interacted with the consumer directly.

“We decided we should be in the direct-to-consumer business,” he said, adding that theater operators, pay-TV operators, big box stores and ecommerce platforms have “known and owned” the Disney customer.

“We didn’t and we thought it was a big hole in terms of the company’s value proposition,” Iger said.

That realization prompted Disney to make an initial investment in BAMTech, which later (2017) morphed into complete ownership of the streaming tech company powering HBO Now, MLB.tv and NHL.tv, among other OTT platforms.

“Knowing essentially who [Disney’s consumers] are, we think we can create more value for the company and for them,” Iger said.

Streaming Red: Disney’s OTT Venture Down a Fiscal Black Hole

NEWS ANALYSIS — Disney bought Marvel Studios in 2009 for $4 billion. It bought Lucasfilm (“Star Wars”) for another $4 billion three years later.

The acquisitions helped Disney reign supreme at the box office in 2018, 2017 and 2016, according to data from BoxOfficeMojo. And it has a commanding lead in 2019 thanks to Avengers: Endgame.

At the same time, the Mickey Mouse company is set to lose more than $2 billion on streaming investments — “Disney Streaming Services” (formerly BAMTech), Vice Media, ESPN+ and Hulu — before it even launches its much-ballyhooed new $6.99 monthly SVOD service Disney+ in November.

Earlier this year, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said ESPN+ is projected to lose $650 million annually through 2020. The company just wrote-off more than $300 million on its minority stake in Vice Media.

And the much-hyped Disney+ SVOD platform is not projected to become profitable until 2024 — three years after CEO Bob Iger plans to retire.

“Streaming requires a strong stomach for losses, especially as you are playing catch-up,” Rich Greenfield, analyst at BTIG Research, told CNBC earlier this year.

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Down the OTT Rabbit Hole

As Disney saw Netflix growing exponentially worldwide — much of it based on streaming movies and TV series based on Marvel intellectual property, it switched its business focus from SVOD enabler to over-the-top provider.

Indeed, Iger says OTT video is the company’s No. 1 focus in 2019, regardless of the financial hits to the bottom line.

Hulu, which Disney majority owns along with Comcast, lost $580 million in 2018, while BAMTech, the backend tech firm acquired from Major League Baseball Advanced Media in 2017, spearheaded another $470 million operating loss for the company’s new direct-to-consumer and international operating unit (which also includes home entertainment).

And the fiscal hits continue.

DTC & International lost $393 million in the most-recent fiscal quarter (ended March 31), up from $188 million loss in the previous-year period. Through the first half of the fiscal year, DTC has lost $529 million, twice as much was lost in 2018.

“We expect our direct-to-consumer businesses to have an adverse impact on the year-over-year change in segment operating income,” McCarthy said in an understatement on the May 8 fiscal call.

Disney, of course, can arguably absorb the losses. It generated a $12.5 billion profit on almost $60 billion in revenue in 2018. That was before closing the 21st Century Fox transaction, which could help Disney reach $100 billion in revenue.

At the same time, the Fox acquisition upped Disney’s long-term debt from $18 billion to about $52 billion. Disney is also expecting about $2 billion of cost synergies absorbing 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and related businesses.

Thus far, Wall Street appears supportive, contending the Disney brand has the best chance of narrowing the SVOD divide with Netflix.

“I think Wall Street is at least accepting of the fact that we’re doing this, that it’s the most important thing we’re doing,” Iger told Barron’s in January. “And while I won’t say they’re cheering us on, they’re definitely giving us the room to prove that we can do it.”

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.

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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 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.

Brazil Approves Disney/20th Century Fox Merger

Brazil regulators have approved The Walt Disney Co.’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film and related businesses — paving the way for consummation of the Hollywood mega-merger first announced in December 2017.

The slow-moving antitrust hurdle represented one of the last challenges to Disney’s merger with Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox entertainment division.

Brazilian authorities sought and achieved Disney’s divesture of Fox Sports channel in the South American country. Disney also owns ESPN Brazil channel. Fox Sports owns rights to key soccer competitions in the region.

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A similar situation exists in the U.S. where the Justice Department ruled Disney has to sell off its stake in 22 regional Fox Sports channels since it owns ESPN.

European Union officials ordered Disney sell its European — not U.S. — stake in A&E Networks.

“Currently, there is only one big-screen rival capable of competing with these channels,” Brazil’s Administrative Council for Economic Defense said in a statement as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The agency said separating Fox Sports from Disney “aims to eliminate competitive concerns in the pay-TV sports channel market.”