Regal Parent, Disney Reportedly Agree to Theatrical Window Deal

On the heels of its theatrical distribution deal with Universal Pictures, Cineworld, corporate parent of No. 2 exhibitor Regal, reportedly has ironed out an agreement with the Walt Disney Co. That would be Cineworld’s third distribution deal in the COVID-19 era when including a previous agreement with Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Disney deal is expected to mirror Universal’s, which affords the studio expedited access to direct-to-consumer distribution, i.e. premium VOD, depending on a film’s box office. If a movie generates $50 million or less in ticket sales, the studio has the right to release it digitally within 17 days of theatrical debut. If the box office exceeds $50 million, the exhibitor’s window expands to 31 days — 45 days in the United Kingdom.

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While Disney’s upcoming movies Cruella, Luca, Black Widow and Jungle Cruise all have either hybrid Premier Access/theatrical or Disney+ distribution, the media giant is debuting 20th Century Studios’ Free Guy and Marvel Studios’ action-adventure Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings with 45-day exclusive windows on Aug. 13 and Sept. 3, respectively.

Disney’s Star+ to Bow Aug. 31 in Latin America

Star+ will launch in Latin America on Aug. 31 as a standalone streaming service that will offer a full slate of ESPN content, including live events from the top leagues and sports shows; series, animated comedies, movies and documentaries; and regional and international original Star productions, including exclusive content, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution announced May 14.

“Star+ will offer a never-before-seen customized experience and will expand our connection with the different audiences,” Diego Lerner, president of The Walt Disney Company Latin America, said in a statement. The strength of the content, that will include all of ESPN, makes Star+ a unique and relevant offering with its own identity that will become a recognized digital service, independent from Disney+. Having said that, its arrival will represent a service that is complementary to Disney+ and it will consolidate The Walt Disney Company’s presence in Latin America’s streaming market. With Star+, we will also reinforce our constant commitment of over 20 years to develop, produce, and offer local content that represents the taste of consumers of the whole region, producing original content with well-known local production companies and talents, to tell stories that connect with Latin American audiences. We will do so through different genres, addressing original fiction stories, and social and historic themes that are relevant and of general interest.”

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The service will be available on Internet-connected devices and users can subscribe separately or as part of a bundled offer with Disney+.

The service includes exclusive premieres of general entertainment TV series and movies from The Walt Disney Company’s content studios, including Disney Television Studios, FX, 20th Century Studios, STAR Original Productions, National Geographic Original Productions and more, and the streaming service for live sports from ESPN. From dramas to comedies (including all seasons of “The Simpsons”) and thrillers for adults, Star+ also features exclusive original programming from the Star general entertainment brand, along with a collection of regional original productions from Latin America.

Disney, NFL and ESPN Reach Long-Term Agreement

The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and the National Football League have reached a long-term agreement that will result in ABC/ESPN joining the Super Bowl rotation, having additional playoff action, exclusive national ESPN+ matchups over the course of the agreement, and more regular-season contests including “Monday Night Football.”

The deal will also result in enhanced game quality and new schedule flexibility, according to a Disney press release.

The 10-year agreement begins with the 2023 season.

“This landmark agreement guarantees that ESPN’s passionate fan base will continue to have access to the best the NFL has to offer,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a statement. “Bringing all the considerable and unique capabilities of The Walt Disney Company and ESPN to the table opens up so many opportunities across our industry-leading direct-to-consumer, broadcast, cable, linear, social and digital outlets. Special thanks to Roger Goodell and the NFL owners for continuing to embrace new ways to appeal to their fans, especially through increasingly important platforms like ESPN+.”

“When ESPN and the NFL work best together, the results are transformational for sports fans and the industry,” Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and sports content, said in a statement. “Some of the most remarkable collaborative examples have occurred in the past 12 months and have demonstrated the extraordinary range of The Walt Disney Company that is fundamental to this agreement. There are so many exciting new components, including Super Bowls and added playoff games, new end-of-season games with playoff implications, exclusive streaming games on ESPN+, scheduling flexibility and enhancements, and much more. It’s a wide-ranging agreement unlike any we’ve reached with the NFL, and we couldn’t be more energized about what the future holds.”

“We are thrilled to extend and expand our partnership with Disney far into the future, as ESPN will continue to host cable’s most-watched series, ‘Monday Night Football,’ and ABC is returning as a Super Bowl broadcaster,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We look forward to working with Disney as they use new platforms, including ESPN+, in innovative ways to reach even more NFL fans.”

ABC/ESPN will carry two Super Bowls (2026, 2030 seasons) as part of a rotation between the NFL’s media partners, marking the first time that an ESPN-NFL agreement includes such Super Bowl rights, according to the press release. ABC last televised the Super Bowl in February 2006 (2005 NFL season). Also, ESPN will present more playoff action, adding an annual divisional round game to its schedule, which will continue to include a wild-card matchup.

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ESPN’s increased regular-season package will include one annual exclusive national game on ESPN+. The game will take place internationally and will be aired live in the Sunday morning Eastern time zone window. Additionally, this agreement allows ESPN the opportunity to simulcast all ESPN/ABC game telecasts on ESPN+.

Also included is rights for the return of ESPN+ highlights show “NFL PrimeTime” each week on the streaming platform.

ESPN will increase its regular-season schedule by 35% — six more games per year (from 17 to 23). It will include an ESPN game on Monday nights (including three weeks with a separate game on ABC), a Saturday doubleheader the season’s final week and the Sunday morning game on ESPN+.

The added two Saturday games will take place during the final week of the regular season and will showcase matchups with playoff implications. Both of those games will be simulcast on ABC and ESPN.

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The agreement includes new elements that will enhance the caliber of the “Monday Night Football” slate, according to the press release. First, the schedule will be more flexible than in years past with the ability for the NFL to swap “a more meaningful” game into the “Monday Night Football” slot with 12 days’ notice from Week 12 on, according to the press release. Additionally, top teams will appear more often, as a result of the agreement which provides ESPN the ability to showcase any four teams at least twice, “leading to even more compelling games,” according to Disney.

With comprehensive NFL highlights rights, ESPN will continue to offer and/or develop NFL-branded programming, pre- and post-game shows, news, analysis and highlights studio shows, storytelling vehicles, digital and social content and more. The deal also includes data rights (e.g. – NFL’s Next Gen stats), according to Disney.

In addition, ESPN has once again secured rights to the annual Pro Bowl. Other key elements include opportunities for alternate telecasts, extending and expanding ESPN’s international rights (including areas in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, India), ESPN Deportes and more.

ESPN has also obtained rights to NFL Drafts, an event that has been an ESPN fixture since 1980, as part of the agreement.

The 2021 season will be the last in ESPN’s current arrangement with the NFL. ESPN and the NFL have reached a bridge agreement for 2022 — the year between when the previous agreement expires and the new 10-year extension begins. For both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, all the foundational components from the agreement expiring in 2021 will be included (e.g. – weekly “Monday Night Football” games), in addition to select elements from the new 10-year agreement. For example, in 2021, ESPN will be adding the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the regular season. For the 2022 bridge year, ESPN will showcase the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the season, a Sunday morning ESPN+ game and one ABC “Monday Night Football” broadcast on a week there is also an ESPN Monday Night Football telecast.

Bob Chapek: Disney+ Tops 100 Million Subscribers; ESPN+ Joining Hulu

Disney+, the branded subscription streaming video service launched in late 2019, has topped 100 million paying members, CEO Bob Chapek said at the media giant’s March 9 virtual shareholder meeting. The SVOD service had reported having near 95 million subs in February. By comparison, market leader Netflix ended 2020 with 203 million subscribers.

“The enormous success of Disney+ has inspired us to be even more ambitious, and to significantly increase our investment in the development of high-quality content,” Chapek said. “In fact, we set a target of 100-plus new titles per year, and this includes Disney Animation, Disney Live Action, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. Our direct-to-consumer business is the company’s top priority, and our robust pipeline of content will continue to fuel its growth.”

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Separately, Chapek said ESPN+, the sports-themed SVOD service with 12 million subscribers, would be incorporated onto the Hulu platform, enabling subscribers of both services to have easier cross-platform access. The CEO hinted that in the future Hulu subs would be able to access pay-per-view sports events on ESPN+ without a subscription.

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 vaccinations increase nationwide, Chapek said the company’s Orange County, Calif.-based legacy Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks would re-open in April. Both have been shuttered for about a year due to the pandemic.

Disney Announces 10 Original SVOD Productions For Europe

Disney Feb. 16 announced a slate of 10 original productions for its European SVOD operations, including +Star, as part of a plan to bow 50 projects across multiple genres in region by 2024. Content country origins include France, Italy, Germany, Holland and the U.K. +Star is slated to launch on Feb. 23.

French content includes “Oussekine,” a four episode series about the death of a young Muslim student Malik Oussekine in the 1986 that led to nationwide protests. Family comedy “Weekend Family,” fantasy teen series “Parallels,” and “Soprano: Sing or Die,” a documentary about rapper Saïd M’Roumbaba.

Saïd M’Roumbaba

Italian crime series “The Good Mothers,” is a mafia-themed production from the woman’s perspective.

Comedy series “Boris,” a spin-off behind-the-scenes show based on drama series “The Eyes of the Heart.”

“The Ignorant Angels” is about the wife who discovers her husband’s affair with another man after he is killed in an auto accident.

German and Dutch productions include “Sam — A Saxon,” the real-life story of Samuel Meffire, East-Germany’s first black police officer. “Sultan City” a fictional series about the mother of a German-Turkish family who realizes she and her daughters have a skill for crime. Finally, “Feyenoord Rotterdam” is a soccer documentary based in Holland.

“Our commissioning strategy showcases our commitment to producing world-class original content, tailored to local markets but with the creative ambition to appeal to audiences across the globe,” Diego Londono, EVP of media networks and content for The Walt Disney Company EMEA, said in a statement.

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Londono said Europe has a global reputation as a creative powerhouse (Netflix and Disney have licensed significant studio production space in the U.K.), which combined with Disney’s legacy storytelling should feed the content pipeline for years.

“Disney+ is the go-to destination for compelling and engaging entertainment in Europe,” Londono said.

In addition to content, Disney named Sofía Fábregas VP of original productions in Spain, and Benjamina Mirnik-Voges VP of original productions in Germany. Both report to Londono and Liam Keelan, VP of original content for The Walt Disney Co. EMEA.

“These first 10 projects embody our ambitious vision for local production,” Keelan said. “Our initial European offering underscores Disney’s regional commitment to outstanding and diverse talent, reflecting our desire to work with the very best storytellers in the industry.”

 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek Calls for National Unity Following Capitol Siege

A day after Trump supporters lay siege on the nation’s Capitol while lawmakers inside attempted to certify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next president and vice president of the United States, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek took to social media to condemn the violence seen around the world.

Chapek said the riot was an “inexcusable assault on America’s most revered institution and our democracy,” — the latter prevailing in the early hours of Jan. 7 when Congress certified Biden and Harris’ Nov. 3, 2020 election win.

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Chapek, who was named CEO in February, replacing Bob Iger, who became executive chairman, said the time calls for the nation to be united by “our shared values, including decency, kindness and compassion for others.”

“We should seize this opportunity, and move ahead with optimism and hope for a better, brighter future for all of America,” he wrote on Twitter.

Wall Street Confidence Sky High Ahead of Disney Investor Day Event

With the Walt Disney Co. set to hold a virtual Investor Day today (Dec. 10) after the market close, Wall Street has already popped Champagne bottles in anticipation of positive news on the company’s streaming video initiatives and vaccine-related impact on parks and amusement business.

Disney shares closed Dec. 9 at a record high following multiple analyst reports projecting CEO Bob Chapek will deliver exciting news this afternoon regarding the company’s first PVOD release Mulan, another season of “The Mandalorian,” and possible transition of new “Star Wars” content from the big screen to streaming.

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On the Disney’s last fiscal call (Nov. 12) Chapek said the Disney+ streaming service had topped 73 million subscribers — well ahead of company projections.

“Chuck the [dividend], torch [earns per share], spend aggressively, All Systems Go on streaming,” Steven Cahall, analyst with Wells Fargo, wrote in a note. “In other words, we think investors will soon be willing to pay a high multiple for a global streaming growth story. So, if one is excited about the sub growth story then the stock price should take care of itself, in our view.”

In the movie business, Disney’s Soul is set to go head-to-head with Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984 as the big Christmas Day digital debuts. Disney moved Soul from a November theatrical release to stream exclusively on Disney+, while Wonder Woman 1984 will be available on HBO Max and in theaters simultaneously.

“It seems now would be the perfect time for continued experimentation — a free pass to determine the right future distribution strategy for Disney’s ‘theatrical’ content,” Rich Greenfield with Lightshed Partners wrote in a note last month.

Greenfield argues that if streaming is Disney’s top priority, why is major TV content such as “The Bachelorette” and “Dancing With the Stars” not premiering on Disney+ or Hulu, with delayed airings on linear TV?

“Why should any compelling TV or film content that can be shifted to streaming first, not be shifted to streaming first?,” Greenfield wrote.

Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne expects Disney+ to end Fiscal Year 2025 with 145 million paid subscribers with revenue of nearly $11 billion in FY25. The analyst believes that combined with Hulu, ESPN+ and Star, Disney could see 250 million total streaming subs by 2025 generating more than $33 billion in revenue.

“Fiscal 2020 [direct-to-consumer segment] losses came in at $3.3 billion, below the original implied guidance for $3.5 billion to $4 billion by our estimates, with much stronger customer growth partially offset by Disney leaning in on marketing,” Swinburne wrote. “For fiscal 2021, we increase our estimate of DTC losses to $4 billion to $4.5 billion and forecast profitability on DTC in 2024.”

Disney shares remain up in midmorning trading at $154.55 per share.

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.

Report: Disney+ Generated $270 Million in ‘Mulan’ PVOD Sales

The Walt Disney Co.’s calculated foray into premium VOD distribution for original movie Mulan reportedly has been a fiscal home run. Yahoo! Finance, citing data from 7Park Data, contends the movie has been purchased by 9 million Disney+ subscribers for $29.99 each through Sept. 12. That tally would suggest the $200 million budget movie, which was released on Sept. 4, has generated an impressive $270 million in direct-to-consumer revenue.

Unlike a typical PVOD transaction that gives a viewer a limited time period, usually 48 hours, to watch the movie, the Disney PVOD system, dubbed Premier Access, is set up to allow Disney+ subscribers to pay the premium fee to unlock the movie on Disney+ for as long as they are subscribers, effectively giving those who pay early access to the movie before it becomes available to all subscribers in a few months.

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App download tracking firm Sensor Tower previously disclosed that downloads of the Disney+ app skyrocketed 68% through the Labor Day weekend (Sept. 4-6), compared with the previous-week time period. Samba TV, which tracks viewership on smart TVs, reported that 1.1 million U.S. households watched Mulan on Labor Day weekend.

Disney has not officially released any Mulan sales data, but CFO Christine McCarthy Sept. 10 told an investor group the media giant was “very pleased” with PVOD sales data thus far.

The results, if true, would be another dagger to the theatrical window and suggests that Disney’s theatrical brand resonates (at significantly higher margin) as much with consumers in the home as at movie theaters. Disney generated a staggering $11.1 billion at the global box office in 2019 — including 33% of all domestic box office ticket sales. It was the first time a studio had controlled that much of the North American box office since 1999, according to Comscore.

Regardless, the movie, which stars Liu Yifei in the iconic Mulan role, had received middling reviews, plenty of controversy over filming locations in China accused of violating the human rights of ethnic Muslims, and lackluster box office sales in the Communist country.

Disneyland Theme Parks Re-Opening July 17

The Walt Disney Company June 10 announced plans to re-open its branded theme parks on July 17 — 65 years to the date Walt Disney opened the original Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., in 1955. All domestic theme parks have been shuttered since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pending state and local government approvals, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel plan to reopen on July 23. Additionally, Downtown Disney District will begin re-opening on July 9.

Because theme park capacity will be significantly limited to comply with governmental requirements and promote social distancing, the Disneyland Resort will manage attendance through a new theme park reservation system that will require all guests, including Annual Passholders, to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance, according to Michael Ramirez, public relations director, Disneyland Resort.

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“At this time, there will also be a temporary pause on new ticket sales and Annual Passport sales and renewals,” Ramirez wrote in a post, adding that parades and nighttime spectaculars will return at a later date. And character meet and greets will be temporarily unavailable.

Upon re-opening, a “Guest Experience Team” will be available throughout the parks and Downtown Disney District to assist visitors with questions regarding new social distancing policies.

“With the health of guests and Disney cast members at the forefront of planning, several operational changes will be implemented based on guidance from health authorities to promote physical distancing and cleanliness throughout the Downtown Disney District,” Ramirez wrote.