Facebook, Disney/ESPN+ Up Soccer Streaming

Soccer may be the world’s most-popular sport that has yet to generate mainstream appeal in the United States. But that isn’t stopping major domestic over-the-top video platforms from inking distribution deals with international professional leagues.

Disney’s recently launched OTT service ESPN+ signed a multi-year media agreement for three more top-division soccer leagues – Australia’s Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League, the Chinese Super League and the Dutch Eredivisie.

In all, more than 300 matches per season from the leagues will be streamed live exclusively in the United States on ESPN+.

“This agreement further boosts the position of ESPN+ as the leading new platform for live soccer matches in the U.S.,” Burke Magnus, EVP of programming and scheduling at ESPN, said in a statement. “These leagues join a lineup of hundreds of top-division live matches from Europe and North America, along with a strong lineup of original and studio soccer programming.”

Last week, ESPN+ announced a new multi-year agreement with Serie A TIM that includes more than 340 Italian soccer matches per year. The streaming service is also home to MLS Live – a collection of more than 250 Major League Soccer out-of-market matches, as well as local market media home for the Chicago Fire.

ESPN+ will carry more than 100 live matches from the UEFA Nations League (UNL), a new tournament among the 55-member nations from the Union of European Football Associations played on FIFA international match days beginning in September. In addition, ESPN+ subscribers have access to hundreds of English Football League (EFL), the United Soccer League (USL) matches.

The service also streams “ESPN FC”, ESPN’s daily global soccer news, information and analysis program.

Separately, Facebook signed a deal with Spain’s La Liga soccer league to stream matches in Asia. The €90 million agreement will live-stream 380 matches in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Maldivas, Nepal, Butan and Sri Lanka.

This summer Amazon Prime Video announced it would live-stream 20 Premier League soccer matches beginning in 2019.

 

Disney CEO Bob Iger: OTT Video No. 1 Priority, Not Competing Against Netflix

With the Walt Disney Co. planning to launch a branded over-the-top video platform in late 2019, the SVOD service, along with digital platform ESPN+ and majority ownership of Hulu will dominate the company’s objectives in the coming year, according to CEO Bob Iger.

Speaking Aug. 7 on the fiscal call, Iger said OTT video is a reality and here to stay. He said the pending Disney services would focus on incorporating core brands, including Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar, in an effort to complement, and to a lesser extent, compete with SVOD platforms such as Netflix, which is spending $8 billion this year alone on original content.

“The launch of [direct-to-consumer] product at the end of 2019 is the biggest priority of the company during calendar 2019,” said Iger, adding that the service would initially target core Disney fans.

“There will be significant amounts of support given across all of our assets to see to it that the platform launches successfully,” he said.

The service/app will feature original branded series and movies, including the first-ever live-action “Star Wars” series, and new episodes of the “Star Wars: Code Wars” animated series; a live-action version of The Lady and the Tramp, in addition to other new series based on popular Disney properties.

“The [20th Century Fox Film] acquisition brings even more opportunity to create original programming for this platform,” said Iger, who added Disney plans on walking before running with the new service.

“It’s takes time to build the kind of content library [for the service that] ultimately we intend to build,” he said. “Because the app will feature Pixar, Disney, Marvel, National Geographic, Lucasfilm and Star Wars, we feel that it doesn’t have to have anything close to the volume of what Netflix has.”

“This gives us the ability to not necessarily be in the volume game, but be in the quality game,” said Iger. “It’s not as though the cupboard’s going to bare.”

Iger said the recently launched ESPN+, pending family-oriented Disney service along with the existing Hulu platform appeal to different consumer tastes and audience demographics.

“As we look at the environment today … we don’t want to go to market with an aggregation play that replicates the multichannel [TV bundle] environment, because we feel consumers are more interested in making [channel] decisions on their own,” said Iger. “We can offer that kind of flexibility to consumers because that’s … what consumer behavior demands.”

The CEO reiterated that the Disney OTT service would be priced lower than Netflix to reflect the difference in content offerings. He said that upon closing the Fox acquisition, Hulu would “also fit into our app strategy.”

When asked how the 2019 theatrical slate could impact the streaming service, Iger said existing distribution windows would be configured to benefit the OTT service. Next year’s slate includes Captain Marvel, Dumbo, Avengers 4, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Jungle Cruise, Artemis Fowl, Frozen 2 and Star Wars Episode 9.

“For 2019, the studio movie slate is clean and unencumbered,” he said.

UFC Hooks Up with ESPN Streaming Video Service

Walt Disney is getting into the octagon.

Mixed martial arts league UFC and The Walt Disney Co. May 8 announced a multi-year media rights agreement for exclusive live UFC content on ESPN+, as well as across a variety of ESPN’s television, social and digital platforms, in English and Spanish, taking effect next January.

The inaugural distribution agreement provides for 15 live UFC events to stream exclusively on ESPN+, the recently-launched $4.99 monthly direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service, in partnership with ESPN.  Each event will be branded “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night” and will deliver a full card of 12 UFC bouts.

“One of our goals for ESPN+ is to bring sports fans of all genres content they love and are passionate about, and this agreement with UFC is illustrative of exactly that,” Kevin Mayer, chairman, direct to consumer and international, at Disney, said in a statement.

With more than 280 million fans around the world, UFC boasts the youngest fan base among major professional sports organizations in the U.S., with a median age of 40 and an audience comprising 40% millennials.

In addition to the live events and content included in the ESPN+ subscription, fight fans will be able to purchase and watch UFC Fight Pass (UFC’s OTT streaming offering) and UFC PPV events via ESPN+, for a separate cost.

“We will now have the ability to deliver fights to our young fan base wherever they are and whenever they want it,” said Dana White, president of the UFC.

ESPN will also showcase a variety of UFC content across ESPN’s linear and digital platforms, including 30-minute specials previewing upcoming bouts; hundreds of hours of UFC library programming; and re-airs of current UFC PPV events.

The ESPN App and ESPN+ are available on mobile and TV-connected devices and on ESPN.com. The new ESPN App with ESPN+ is available on devices and platforms including Amazon (Fire TV, Fire Stick, Fire Smart TVs, Fire tablets), Android (Android phones, Android TV), Apple (iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and supported in the Apple TV App), Chromecast and Roku.

 

 

Disney, Twitter Expand Original Content Deal

The Walt Disney Co. and Twitter April 30 announced a new agreement to create live content and advertising opportunities across the entire Disney portfolio on the Twitter platform. The pact includes more than 30 new collaborations and renewals across entertainment, news, sports, and gaming – nearly doubling the number of programs created in the first deal in 2017.

Twitter, which claims to have 328 million monthly users, is looking to expand original content to mobile users. The social media platform earlier this year inked a deal with Major League Baseball to live-stream a weekly afternoon game each week. Twitter also streams NFL Monday Night Football games.

Disney subsidiaries creating content for Twitter, include ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform, Disney Digital Network, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Radio Disney and Marvel.

Live content launching on Twitter from these entities under the new agreement will be announced at a later date.

“Through this new agreement, participants from across the company will have the opportunity to create experiences unique to Twitter that will extend their brands in meaningful ways,” Justin Connolly, EVP, affiliate sales and marketing, Disney and ESPN Media Networks, said in a statement.

Travis Howe, SVP, platform ad sales strategy and global operations at Disney-owned ESPN, said social media has become the new primary vehicle to grow and engage audiences. ESPN, which launched standalone over-the-top video platform, ESPN+, is unveiling content agreements with Twitter in May.

“The insights to be gained will be invaluable as we continue to serve the right content and the right ads to the right people,” Howe said.

“To innovate at this scale with The Walt Disney Co. is a huge step forward in expanding the depth and breadth of video content we offer to leaned in, engaged consumers on Twitter,” said Matthew Derella, global VP of revenue and content partnerships, at Twitter.

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sat on Disney’s board from 2013 until early this year when he resigned along with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

ESPN+ Streaming Service Available on Roku Platform

Roku April 16 announced the availability of The Walt Disney Co.’s new $4.99 monthly ($49.99 annual) over-the-top video service, ESPN+, via a new ESPN channel on the Roku platform.

ESPN+ is the first-ever multi-sport, direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service from Disney’s upstart “direct-to-consumer and international group,” in partnership with ESPN.

The service offers subscribers access to select MLB, NHL and MLS games, Grand Slam tennis, Top Rank boxing, PGA Tour golf, college sports, international rugby, cricket and catalog ESPN Films (including “30 for 30”), among other programing.

“The launch of ESPN+ marks an exciting moment for the OTT sports experience, giving consumers more sports content from their favorite pastimes than ever,” Scott Rosenberg, GM of platform business at Roku, said in a statement.

ESPN+ Streaming Service Launching April 12

ESPN+, Disney’s much-anticipated first standalone over-the-top video service, is launching April 12, priced at $4.99 per month. ESPN+ will be an integrated part of a redesigned ESPN App, also available through ESPN.com.

“ESPN was built on a belief in innovation and the powerful connection between sports and a remarkable array of fans. That same belief is at the heart of ESPN+ and the new ESPN App,” James Pitaro, president and co-chair, Disney Media Networks, said in a statement.

The OTT platform is the first direct-to-consumer service offering from Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, the newly-created multimedia unit created by Disney’s Media Networks and Studio Entertainment groups.

A Disney-branded direct-to-consumer service, offering SVOD viewing of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm movies along with a host of exclusive content, will launch in late 2019. Both streaming services are powered by BAMTech, a unit of Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International.

“The launch of ESPN+ marks the beginning of an exciting new era of innovation for our media businesses – one defined by an increasingly direct and personal relationship with consumers,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, The Walt Disney Co.

The ESPN+ programming lineup will offer four key pillars of content: live sports events, original shows and films, exclusive studio programs, and on-demand content. Additional details about content in the ESPN+ programming lineup will be announced in the coming days.

Bob Iger Reiterates Disney’s OTT Future

When CEO Bob Iger announced Disney would cease distributing original movies through Netflix in 2019, he was laying the foundation for a proprietary direct-to-consumer ecosystem.

Speaking Feb. 26 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom confab in San Francisco, Iger reiterated oft-discussed plans to launch standalone apps around ESPN (dubbed ESPN Plus and bowing in March at $4.99 monthly) and Disney (OTT in 2019) brands.

The CEO conceded technology and SVOD is disrupting the pay-TV ecosystem, with the aforementioned apps giving Disney an opportunity to “participate in the very business that is doing the disrupting.”

The ESPN service will also enable users to add out-of-market access to Major League Baseball games (MLB.tv) and National Hockey League (NHL.tv) matches for a premium.

“I imagine you’ll see that price rise for the augmented service. We have the opportunity to enable customers to buy seasons, teams, weekends,” Iger said.

But it is the Disney OTT service that is generating the most buzz and speculation. Calling the platform a long-term priority for Disney, the service will feature four-to-five original movies and TV series, in addition to theatrical fare, including Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, according to Iger.

The executive expects to get a better picture of Disney’s OTT window after closing acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film Company.

“We’ll see how that goes and we’ll have a better sense of what kind of volume we can provide,” Iger said.

He said Disney currently has 11 billion-dollar movie franchises, with Black Panther slated to be the 12th – and exclusive to Netflix later this year.

“[We are] competing with ourselves,” Iger said.

Fox News Launching SVOD Service for Base Audience

Rupert Murdoch helped establish a cable news juggernaut with Fox News. Now he wants Fox News, including notable political pundit Sean Hannity and others, i.e. “Fox & Friends,” to go over-the-top through a standalone subscription streaming service.

Dubbed Fox Nation, the service featuring right-leaning commentary is set to launch at the end of the year. The price of the service has not been disclosed.

Designed to enhance the Fox News viewer experience, Fox Nation will take a deep dive into the big issues of the day with live daily streaming content and long-form programming. Fox Nation will also include access to events and 20 plus years of archival FNC programming. Interaction with all of FNC’s popular opinion hosts and personalities will also be a mainstay of the new platform.

“Fox Nation is designed to appeal to the Fox superfan,” John Finley, head of program development and production at Fox News, told The New York Times. “These are the folks who watch Fox News every night for hours at a time, the dedicated audience that really wants more of what we have to offer.”

The service comes as other media giants seek out SVOD platforms to buttress dwindling pay-TV markets.

Disney, by the second quarter, will launch ESPN Plus, a standalone service intended to compliment ESPN. CBS has more than 2.5 million subs for CBS All Access, in addition to free ad-supported CBSN, featuring news.

Whether Fox News’ older demographic will go for SVOD — which is largely popular among younger audiences, including millennials — remains to be seen.

Finley isn’t worried.

“We know who our audience is. We know what they want,” he said.

Disney Readying ESPN OTT Video Service for Spring Launch

The Walt Disney Co. this spring is launching a standalone ESPN over-the-top video service, a $4.99 monthly platform powered by the media giant’s recent $3.75 billion BAMTech acquisition. Disney will also launch its first domestic OTT video in late 2019.

The move comes as Disney reported 11% drop in first-quarter (ended Dec. 30, 2017) ad revenue at ESPN. The company attributed the decline in part to the timing of the NCAA college football playoffs. ESPN broadcast six bowl games in Q1 last year compared to two games this year.

Speaking on the Feb. 6 fiscal call, CEO Bob Iger explained that the revamped ESPN app would feature live (authenticated) streaming, scores, highlights, news, stories, etc.

A third component, dubbed ESPN Plus, will feature on-demand content, including the entire library of ESPN’s award-winning “30 for 30” series.

“We plan to invest further in the direct-to-consumer feature, adding more live games and produce sports programming, along with even greater personalization in the years ahead,” Iger said.

Should Disney’s $52 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox go through, it plans to incorporate movies from Fox 2000 and Fox Searchlight for OTT video – a strategic move Netflix follows.

“As a company, when combined, we’ll have far more production … to flow into our traditional distribution businesses, that being TV channels and the motion picture exhibition business, as well as the capability to create product for our direct-to-consumer businesses,” Iger said.

He said that with Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars brands, the studio won’t try and emulate Netflix’s 80 feature-film production goals.

The demand for those [Disney] brands, we believe, will give us the ability to spend less on volume,” Iger said.