Disney Reorganizes With Focus on Streaming Video

With much of its business units idled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney CEO Bob Chapek Oct. 12 announced internal restructuring that puts the focus on what is working: streaming video.

Kareem Daniel

Disney is combining ad sales with distribution into a new Media and Entertainment Distribution group led by Kareem Daniel, who has served as president of consumer products, games and publishing. The media giant said the move is to put a “focus on developing and producing original content for the company’s streaming services.”

The new group will be responsible for all monetization of content — both distribution and ad sales — and will oversee operations of the Company’s streaming services. It will also have sole P&L accountability for Disney’s media and entertainment businesses.

This means that while Alan Horn and Alan Bergman, Peter Rice, and James Pitaro will continue to lead Disney’s studios, general entertainment and amusement parks, respectively, they will do so separate from streaming video.

Rebecca Campbell

Rebecca Campbell, who headed direct-to-consumer operations, which includes Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, and pending Disney+ Hotstar, was upped to chairman of international operations and direct-to-consumer. All five executives report directly to Chapek, with Campbell reporting directly to Daniel.

“Given the incredible success of Disney+ and our plans to accelerate our direct-to-consumer business, we are strategically positioning our Company to more effectively support our growth strategy and increase shareholder value,” Chapek said.

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The CEO said separating content creation from distribution would allow Disney to be more effective in making the content consumers want most, delivered in the ways they prefer it, i.e. over-the-top video, transactional VOD and PVOD.

Indeed, Disney+ had more than 60 million subscribers in August. The bundle of Disney+ with Hulu and ESPN+ has 105 million.

“Our creative teams will concentrate on what they do best–making world-class, franchise-based content — while our newly centralized global distribution team will focus on delivering and monetizing that content in the most optimal way across all platforms, including the coming Star international streaming service,” Chapek said.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to work with the talented and dedicated teams that will comprise this group, and I look forward to a close collaboration with the outstanding and incredibly successful team of creative content leaders at the company, as together we build on the success we’ve already achieved in our DTC and legacy distribution business,” Daniel said in a statement.

A 14-year Disney veteran, Daniel has held leadership positions across a variety of businesses, including consumer products, games and interactive experiences, publishing, studio distribution, and Walt Disney Imagineering. Prior to that, Daniel was VP of Distribution Strategy at Walt Disney Studios, where he worked closely with the leadership in developing the company’s film content distribution strategy across multiple platforms and played a key role in the commercialization of the studio’s films.

“As we now look to rapidly grow our direct-to-consumer business, a key focus will be delivering and monetizing our great content in the most optimal way possible, and I can think of no one better suited to lead this effort than Kareem,” Chapek said. “His wealth of experience will enable him to effectively bring together the company’s distribution, advertising, marketing and sales functions, thereby creating a distribution powerhouse that will serve all of Disney’s media and entertainment businesses.”

Disney reports fourth-quarter (ended Sept. 30) fiscal earnings Nov. 5.

Activist Investor Urges Disney to Increase SVOD Spending

Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb continues to see opportunity in the pandemic-throttled entertainment sector — most notably at The Walt Disney Co.

Loeb’s Third Point Management, which has more than $10.8 billion in assets, has spent much of the COVID-19 era buying up a depressed Disney stock undermined by amusement park and cruise ship closures, and waylaid studio releases, among other issues, that were reportedly costing the company $30 million in daily overhead.

Now Loeb, who is one of Disney’s largest single investors, is calling on Disney CEO Bob Chapek and the board not to authorize the company’s annual $3 billion dividend — a surprising stance considering most activist investors implore companies to give back more to stock holders; not less.

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In an Oct. 7 letter to Chapek, Loeb wants the board to re-direct dividend funds to content spending on Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+, the latter Disney’s high-profile subscription streaming video-on-demand platform the investor contends has a legitimate shot at usurping market behemoth Netflix — both in subscribers and content.

“By reallocating a dividend of a few dollars per share, Disney could more than double its Disney+ original content budget,” Loeb wrote. “The ability to drive subscriber growth, reduce churn, and increase pricing present the opportunity to create tens of billions of dollars in incremental value for Disney shareholders in short order, and hundreds of billions once the platform reaches larger scale.”

Specifically, the investor contends Disney+ has largely outdistanced subscriber growth projections by offering classic Disney, Pixar and “Star Wars” movies, with little spent on original programming except for “The Mandalorian,” among other content. Disney ended the most-recent fiscal period with more than 60.5 million subscribers. The company had originally projected 60 million to 90 million subs by 2024.

Indeed, while Disney is spending about $1 billion on original content in 2020, Netflix is reportedly spending nearly $17 billion, with plans to spend upwards of $28 billion by 2028.

“A more aggressive content roadmap will distinguish Disney as the only traditional U.S. media company able to thrive in a world beyond the box office and the cable TV ecosystem, alongside digital-first businesses like Netflix and Amazon,” Loeb wrote.

ESPN’s ‘Last Dance’ Available as Limited-Edition Blu-ray Nov. 10

Disney Media Networks and ESPN Films will release the award-winning documentary series The Last Dance as a Blu-ray Disc gift set Nov. 10.

Winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction series, the 10-part The Last Dance chronicles Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ efforts to win a sixth NBA championship during the 1997-98 season. The series originally aired on ESPN and is also available on Netflix.

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The Blu-ray gift set includes a 28-page gallery book with photos and episode recaps, a timeline poster, and more than four hours of additional material.

Extras include:

  • Exclusive never-before-seen The Last Dance bonus interviews;
  • “Game 6: The Movie”
  • A never -before-seen uncut version of Stuart Scott’s interview with Michael Jordan on “Sunday Conversation” from June 1998;
  • “In-the-Moment” archival material;
  • “SportsCenter” with Scott Van Pelt roundtables;
  • “The Jalen & Jacoby Aftershow” with Jason Hehir.

 

Disney, Verizon Expanding Disney+ Promotion to Include ESPN+, Hulu

Disney jumpstarted consumer adoption of its branded SVOD platform Disney+ by offering 12 months of free service to Verizon wireless subscribers. Beginning Aug. 19, Verizon subscribers with either the “Play More Unlimited” or “Get More Unlimited” plan will receive 12 months of free bundled Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu SVOD service.

Disney has been selling the OTT video bundle for $12.99 monthly, with the services costing $19 if purchased separately. Disney ended its most recent fiscal period with 60.5 million Disney+ subs, followed by Hulu with 35.5 million (which includes 3.4 million combined Hulu with Live TV) and 8.5 million for ESPN+.

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“The addition of The Disney Bundle to our agreement with Verizon reinforces our commitment to providing their subscribers with access to high-quality entertainment from Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+,” Sean Breen, EVP of platform distribution for Disney, said in a statement. “We are always looking for the most advantageous ways for consumers to experience our content and we are pleased to work with Verizon so that they can provide their customers with these appealing new offers.”

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Indeed, co-promotions with established pay-TV operators are seen as key to upstart SVOD platforms getting consumer traction and competing with industry behemoth/pioneer Netflix. Apple TV+ launched with free 12-month service to anyone buying a new Apple hardware product. WarnerMedia is offering free HBO Max service to select AT&T wireless customers, while T-Mobile offers Netflix free to wireless subs — a campaign mirrored by Sprint and Hulu.

ESPN Leads 41st Sports Emmy Awards; Netflix Grabs Doc Win

Disney-owned ESPN edged out Fox Sports, CBS Sports and HBO to lead the The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 41st Sports Emmy Awards. The live-streamed ceremony honored nominees in more than 35 categories. Surprise winners included Netflix, which won a documentary award (“Last Chance U”) despite eschewing live sports programming.

“The global pandemic has created unparalleled challenges in bringing a ‘live’ awards show program to the sports community,” Adam Sharp, CEO, NATAS, said in a statement. “With two hosts, seven presenters, and more than 135 acceptors coming from either a studio or their homes across the country, the sheer size and demand for new and exciting ways to recognize the great talents creating sports television has been an enormous enterprise that the National Academy has happily embraced.”

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The ceremony was streamed live on NATAS’s dedicated viewing platform powered by Vimeo, available on the Web at watch.theemmys.tv and via The Emmys apps for iOS, tvOS, Android, FireTV, and Roku (full list at apps.theemmys.tv).

Categories included Outstanding Live Sports Special, Live Sports Series and Playoff Coverage, three Documentary categories, Outstanding Play-by-Play Announcer and Studio Host, among others. This year’s competition marked the debut of a new category for Outstanding Esports Coverage.

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The full list of honorees follows and is also available at TheEmmys.tv.

The 41st Annual Sports Emmy Award by Network

Network Winners
ESPN                                  7
FOX 7
CBS 5
HBO 5
TNT 4
MLB Network 3
FS1 2
NBC   2
NBCSN                              2
NFL Network 2
ABC 1
CBS Sports Network 1
ESPNews 1
FOX Deportes 1
FS2 1
Golf Channel 1
Netflix 1
Red Bull TV 1
tbs 1
truTV 1
UFC Fight Pass 1
YouTube 1

The 41st Annual Sports Emmy Award by Network Group

Network Group Winners
ESPN (ESPN, ESPNews, ABC) 8
FOX Sports Media Group (FOX, FS1, FS2, FOX Deportes) 7
CBS Sports (CBS, CBS Sports Network) 5
HBO Sports 5
Turner Sports (tbs, TNT, truTV) 4
MLB Network 3
NBC Sports Group  (NBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel) 3
NFL Network 2
Netflix   1
Red Bull TV   1
UFC   1
YouTube   1

The 41st Annual Sports Emmy Award by Multiple Winners

 Program Winners Network
Super Bowl LIV 4 FOX
24/7 3 HBO
E: 60 2 ESPN
NFL 100 2 NFL Network
NFL on ESPN 2 ESPN
SC Featured 2 ESPN
2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup 2 FOX
The Masters 3 CBS

 

Disney SVOD Services Total 100 Million Paid Subs

Disney’s aggressive marketing of a branded direct-to-consumer (DTC) video package featuring Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu has resulted to a subscriber base topping 100 million, CEO Bob Chapek Aug. 4 disclosed on the media giant’s third-quarter (ended June 27) earnings report.

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Disney ended the period with 57.5 million Disney+ subs, 8.5 million ESPN+ subs, 32.1 million Hulu subs and 3.4 million Hulu with Live TV subs. The data would suggest sub growth at Disney+ has cooled since attracting 54.5 million subs by May 4.

Disney attributed ESPN+ subscriber growth and higher income from Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view events. The platform, together with Hulu and Disney+, has been bundled for $12.99 monthly and less.

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“[This is] a significant milestone and a reaffirmation of our DTC strategy, which we view as key to the future growth of our company,” Chapek said in a statement.

The milestone comes as DTC revenue topped $3.9 billion, up 2% from revenue of $3.8 billion in the previous-year period. Through nine months of the fiscal year, DTC revenue tops $12.1 billion compared with $5.9 billion in the prior-year period, and before the launch of Disney+ on Nov. 12, 2019.

While revenue increases in DTC, so do costs, at the expense of operating income. The segment reported a loss of $706 million, up 25% from an operating loss of $562 million in the previous-year period. Through nine months of the fiscal year, DTC operating losses have topped $2.2 billion, from $1 billion a year ago.

“Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, we’ve continued to build on the incredible success of Disney+ as we grow our global direct-to-consumer businesses,” Chapek said.

ESPN Inks Production Deal With Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick may not get another chance to play in the NFL, but the former Super Bowl quarterback turned activist has no shortage of media opportunities.

Disney-owned ESPN Films July 6 announced it has entered into a production deal with the 32-year-old former University of Nevada standout, who hasn’t played football since 2017, for a multi-episodic series similar to “The Last Dance” docuseries about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The series will focus on Kaepernick’s stardom with the San Francisco 49ers and his speaking out on racial issues.

“Using extensive new interviews and a vast never-before-seen archive that documents the last five years, Kaepernick will tell his story from his perspective,” Disney said in a statement.

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Kaepernick, who came within one pass of winning the 2012 Super Bowl, began his silent protest against alleged racial injustice, police brutality and systematic oppression in the country during the playing of the national anthem in the 49ers’ third preseason game in 2016. The following week, and throughout the regular season, Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem. The protests generated highly-polarized reactions, with some praising him and others denouncing the protests.

Bob Iger, executive chairman of Disney, said Kaepernick’s experience gives him a unique perspective on the intersection of sports, culture and race in today’s society.

“This will undoubtedly create compelling stories that will educate, enlighten and entertain, and we look forward to working with him on this important collaboration,” Iger said.

Last month, Netflix announced that Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Ava DuVernay would create a series about Kaepernick’s life.

Ford to Debut New Bronco Vehicles in Short Films on Disney, Hulu Platforms

With automobile shows canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ford Motor Company July 2 announced it would reveal its new Ford Bronco 4×4 vehicles in a series of custom videos on July 13 across Disney’s Media Networks, including ABC, ESPN, National Geographic and Hulu.

It’s the first time Ford has launched a primetime TV product reveal across Disney’s broadcast, cable, digital and streaming channels.

The automaker initially planned to reveal the Bronco 4×4 SUVs in June at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. After the pandemic prompted organizers to cancel the show, Ford’s marketing team reconceived the reveal strategy, aiming to pull in an even broader audience.

The campaign marks the first time Disney’s creative agency is deploying custom branded content, across multiple networks. Each film will air on the respective networks during the first commercial break in the 8 p.m. ET hour.

All three-minute films will be available to viewers on Hulu, starting July 14, through interactive ad formats, and within a curated collection of outdoor and survival-themed content aligned with the Bronco lifestyle.

“With Ford, we’re reimagining what a product reveal can look like by drawing upon our sports, entertainment and streaming brands,” Rita Ferro, president, Disney Advertising Sales, said in a statement.

The ABC spot features country music singer Kip Moore during “CMA Best of Fest,” the Country Music Association’s three-hour concert experience, airing July 13 (8–11 p.m. ET). The ESPN video — airing during “SportsCenter” — features a different Bronco model with professional climber Brooke Raboutou.

Academy Award-winning director, cinematographer, photographer Jimmy Chin will spotlight another Bronco during “National Parks: Yosemite” on National Geographic. Additionally, Chin will judge a hashtag challenge contest and appear in an “Instagram Story” featuring the Bronco on NatGeo’s Instagram account.

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In addition to the films created for ABC, ESPN and National Geographic, Ford also will share additional special content with fans on its YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels starting at 8 p.m. ET on July 13.

“As a new era for Bronco begins, we’re proud to tap the strengths of epic adventurers like Jimmy Chin and Disney storytellers to help bring Bronco to life,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer.

ESPN+ Raising Subscription Price in August

Despite a dearth of live sports programming, Disney reportedly is set to raise the price of subscription streaming service ESPN+ by $1 to $5.99 monthly beginning in August. The new price would equal the monthly fee for Hulu basic with advertising. The annual $49.99 fee stays the same. Existing ESPN+ subs would be grandfathered into the new price point after one year, according to The Verge, which first reported the price hike, citing sources.

Launched in 2018, ESPN+ features streaming access to 20 sports, including the PGA Tour, UFC, NBA and NFL, and ended March with 7.9 million subs.

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Disney has been aggressively marketing the service bundled with Hulu and Disney+ for $12.99 — a move research firm eMarketer contends will drive ESPN+ subs to 15 million by the end of the year. Disney is also offering standalone ESPN+ subs access to Hulu and Disney+ for $9.99 monthly.

eMarketer contends 36.5 million people in the country will watch live sports digitally this year (when they resume) — including 23.7% watching via digital channels.

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Disney+ Launching ‘Summer Movie Nights’ July 3

Subscription streaming service Disney+ is set to launch its first “Summer Movie Nights,” featuring a lineup of brand new original and newly announced family movies.

Viewers can use #DisneyPlusMovieNights and follow Disney+ on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for live Q&As, watch parties and exclusive content bringing the excitement of the summer movie season into their homes.

Beginning Friday, July 3, with the premiere of Hamilton, the filmed version of the original Broadway production, subscribers can watch catalog titles and original features premiering every week.

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Titles include:

Hamilton combines the best elements of live theater, film and streaming to bring the cultural phenomenon to homes around the world for a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Mighty Ducks (July 3) — Emilio Estevez portrays a trial attorney who gets a community service assignment: coaching a hapless group of pee wee hockey players.

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Friday, July 10
X-Men: Days of Future Past — Characters from the original X-Men film trilogy join forces with their younger selves in an epic struggle to change the past and save our future.
Solo: A Star Wars Story — Through a series of daring escapades, Han Solo befriends his mighty future copilot Chewbacca in an epic adventure directed by Ron Howard and written by Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan.

Friday, July 17
X-Men: Apocalypse — Apocalypse, the most powerful mutant in the universe, tries to destroy all of mankind. To save humanity, Professor X leads the X-Men in a showdown that will determine the fate of the world.

Friday, July 24
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — Captain Jack Sparrow is pursued by old rival Captain Salazar and a crew of deadly ghosts who escape from the Devil’s Triangle, determined to kill every pirate at sea … notably him.

Friday, July 31
Incredibles 2 — Helen is called on to help bring Supers back, and Bob must juggle the daily heroics of home life. But when a new villain arises with a sinister plot, the Parrs meet the challenge together!

Friday, Aug. 7
X-Men – The X-Men, a group of mutants with extraordinary powers, wage a fight against both intolerance, and a fellow band of radical mutants intent on exterminating the human race.

The Peanuts Movie — Snoopy, the world’s most lovable beagle and flying ace takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis The Red Baron, while his best pal, Charlie Brown, begins his own epic quest.

Friday, Aug. 14
Ant-Man and The Wasp — As he struggles to balance his home life and Super Hero duties, Scott Lang finds he must suit up as Ant-Man again, joining the Wasp on an urgent mission to uncover secrets from the past.

The Greatest Showman — Hugh Jackman stars in this bold and original musical, inspired by the ambition and imagination of P.T. Barnum, celebrating the birth of show business and dreams coming to life.

Friday, Aug. 21
Beauty and the Beast (2017) — The story and characters you love come to life in the live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic, a cinematic event celebrating one of the most beloved tales ever told.

Friday, Aug. 28
Fantastic Four (2005) — Transformed into superheroes after surviving a disaster in space, The Fantastic Four struggle to reconcile their powers, responsibilities and relationships as a dysfunctional family. Overcoming their personal conflicts, they finally join forces to defeat Dr. Doom, the malevolent, metallic embodiment of their treacherous former patron.

Alice Through the Looking Glass — When Alice comes across a magical looking glass and returns to the fantastical realm of Underland, she discovers that her friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has lost his Muchness and embarks on a perilous race to save him before time runs out.

Friday, Sept. 4
The Wolverine — The Wolverine returns to face his ultimate nemesis in an action packed battle that takes him to modern day Japan; an epic fight that will change him forever.

“Disney Bundle” subs (Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu) will also have new movies premiering throughout on Hulu, including the premiere of Palm Springs on July 10, alongside ESPN+’s library of original documentaries and films. Additional library titles and premiere dates will be announced in the Next on Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ monthly listings email.