Disney Reportedly Set to Spin Off Indian Hotstar Streaming Business

The Walt Disney Co. has reportedly signed a non-binding term sheet with Reliance Industries Ltd. to merge the companies’ Indian media assets, including the Hotstar streaming platform and JioCinema, the ad-supported free streaming service.

The proposed cash-stock deal — expected to close in February 2024 — would see Reliance own 51% of the new company, with Disney retaining 49%, according to The Economic Times, which first reported the deal. Former Disney senior executive Kevin Mayer, who was brought back by CEO Bob Iger in July as a consultant, is heading the merger for Disney.

India has been key to the evolution of the Disney+ subscription streaming VOD service, with the Hotstar platform accounting for nearly 40% of Disney+ total subscribers after its 2019 launch. Disney acquired Hotstar as part of its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox.

Key to Hotstar was the platform’s exclusive streaming rights to the Indian Premier League, a men’s professional cricket league contested by 10 city-based franchise teams. Cricket is the national sport in India. But Hotstar lost the multibillion-dollar IPL rights earlier this year to Viacom18, an Indian-based media company co-owned by Paramount Global and Reliance.

Since that announcement, Disney+ has lost millions of Indian subscribers, including 2.8 million in the most recent fiscal period, with Hotstar accounting for 25% of all Disney+ subscribers.

Disney Names Longtime PepsiCo CFO Hugh Johnston as its New Chief Financial Officer

Hugh Johnston, chief financial officer with PepisCo for more than 20 years, is leaving the soft drink conglomerate to join The Walt Disney Company as CFO on Nov. 30. Johnston is replacing Christine McCarthy, who left her CFO position at Disney in June for a family medical leave of absence.

Hugh Johnston

As Disney’s CFO, Johnston will report directly to CEO Bob Iger and will lead the company’s worldwide finance organization, which includes corporate real estate, corporate strategy and business development, enterprise controllership, enterprise technology, financial planning and analysis, global product and labor standards, global security, investor relations, risk management, tax, and treasury.

“Hugh’s well-earned reputation as one of the best CFOs in America and his wealth of leadership experience in both financial and operational roles overseeing a diverse portfolio of top global brands make him a perfect addition to Disney’s senior leadership team,” Iger said in a statement.

Johnston replaces interim CFO Kevin Lansberry, who is returning to his CFO position at Disney Experience.

Johnston joined PepsiCo in 1987, and has held a variety of roles, including EVP, Global Operations, PepsiCo; President, Pepsi-Cola North America; SVP, Transformation, PepsiCo; SVP and CFO, PepsiCo Beverages and Foods; and SVP, Mergers and Acquisitions, PepsiCo. Johnston also served as VP, Retail at Merck & Co. from 1999 until 2002, when he rejoined PepsiCo.

Johnston was named CFO of PepsiCo in 2010 and has been responsible for providing strategic financial leadership for PepsiCo, including ensuring the company’s strategy creates shareholder value, communicating the company’s strategies and performance to investors, and implementing a capital structure, financial processes and controls to support the company’s growth and return on investment goals.

Johnston currently serves as a member of the board and chair of the audit committee of Microsoft Corp., and as a member of the board and chair of the audit committee of HCA Healthcare. He is also a director for the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a leading global economic think tank.

Johnston holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Syracuse University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.

Charter CEO: ‘Video Ecosystem Is Broken’

The Charter Communications leadership team during a Sept. 1 investor meeting laid out the company’s vision for a cable-TV business model it they said is in a serious state of disrepair.

The presentation was framed by the company’s ongoing carriage fee dispute with the Walt Disney Co., and comes the day after Disney pulled its programming from Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable packages as negotiations hit an impasse.

“We’ve generally been able to manage relationships with our programming partners behind the scenes,” said Charter president and CEO Chris Winfrey. “We respect the quality product that Disney produces and its management team, but the video ecosystem is broken.”

In its presentation notes, Charter expressed disappointment that Disney has “insisted on unsustainable price hikes and forcing customers to take their products, even when they don’t want or can’t afford them. They also want to require customers to pay twice to get content apps with the linear video they have already paid for.”

“This is not a typical carriage dispute,” Winfrey said. “It’s significant for Charter, and we think it’s even more significant to programmers in the broader video ecosystem.”

The CEO indicted that Charter and Disney together are in a unique position to lead the way.

According to the presentation, Disney’s cable portfolio has seen significant viewership declines across sports, general entertainment and children’s programming over the past four years, as Disney has focused on growing SVOD substitutes such as Disney+. According to Charter’s leadership team, “as we entered negotiations, The Walt Disney Co. proposed a long-term deal that continues to ignore the realities of a shifting marketplace.

They said Disney wanted higher license fees, less packaging flexibility, and for Charter to pay for customers that do not receive its services. For 2023, Charter had expected to pay Disney more than $2.2 billion for carriage rights, “not including the impact of advertising on either party.”

“We’re on the edge of a precipice,” Winfrey said, echoing a quote Bob Iger made a year ago before returning as Disney CEO. “We’re either moving forward with a new collaborative video model, or we’re moving on.”

Winfrey summarized the tug-of-war between MVPD (multichannel video programming distributors, or traditional cable companies), and SVOD (streaming services, including studio direct-to-consumer options). As the proliferation of streaming services devalued content and cannibalized MVPD services, content providers continued to increase fees to linear services in order to finance their direct-to-consumer efforts, while enforcing carriage restrictions requiring cable providers to carry lesser-watched channels alongside the popular ones, ultimately leading to higher cable bills for customers. After years of growing content creation costs and billions of dollars in losses from chasing subscribers, DTC services are now turning toward raising rates, advertising, bundling options and password-sharing crackdowns, all the while “asking linear video customers to fund their mistakes.”

“Without a coherent DTC strategy and with programmers constantly chasing the winds of the capital markets, we believe the time for a more-coherent strategy is now,” Winfrey said.

Over the last five years, the linear video industry has lost nearly 25 million customers, almost 25% of total industry customers, according to Charter. On the other hand, Charter’s video customer base has declined only about 10%, according to Rich DiGeronimo, Charter’s president of product and technology, who credited Charter’s commitment to linear video, and flexibility in pricing and packaging.

“We’ve proposed a model to Disney that we believe creates better alignment for the industry and better products for customers, a model that can both stabilize linear video and create a clear growth path for direct-to-consumer video with a more customer-friendly and financially attractive end state for programmers,” Winfrey said. “Given how much of the expense is tied up in sports, Disney has to lead instead of pursuing the same playbook that drives the vicious cycle of customer declines. Ultimately Disney gave us a choice, to either carry on with the bad path for consumers, or to look to completely new video models for our customers. Because we’ve reached the point of indifference under the current industry model, we have a unique ability to stand firm for a deal where Disney and Charter cooperate for video products that are valuable and relevant to consumers.”

Charter’s team said it would accept Disney’s market rates in exchange for

  • Lower penetration minimums to deliver package flexibility for our customers;
  • Inclusion of Disney’s ad-supported DTC apps within Charter’s packaged linear products so the customer does not have to pay twice for similar programming;
  • Charter’s commitment to market Disney’s DTC products to its broadband-only customers.

 

This, according to Charter, would give customers “flexibility to choose from a variety of high-quality packages with varying content and pricing to meet their viewing and budgetary needs.”

For Disney, Charter indicated, “this model provides a glidepath to manage its migration pace to a larger DTC business, including the ability to stem linear subscription and advertising revenue losses, reduce DTC churn, increase advertising revenue and likely drive more upgrades within their digital television apps. Ultimately, it provides a more sustainable revenue stream, in our view.”

According to the presentation, Charter “offered The Walt Disney Company a shorter-term contract extension, with penetration minimums that would allow us to continue to provide flexible options to consumers. However, The Walt Disney Co. has informed us that they would not be willing to accept a contract extension.”

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In a statement released to the press on Friday, Sept. 1, The Walt Disney Co. stated that “Charter has refused to enter into a new agreement with us that reflects market-based terms. Contrary to their claims, we have offered Charter the most favorable terms on rates, distribution, packaging, advertising and more. We have proposed creative ways to make Disney’s direct-to-consumer services available to their Spectrum TV subscribers, including opportunities for new and flexible packages where those services become a focal point of what the consumer might choose.

“Although Charter claims to value our direct-to-consumer services, they are demanding these services for free as they have stated publicly. Charter is depriving consumers of that content because they are failing to ascribe any value in exchange for licensing those services. Our linear channels and direct-to-consumer services are not one and the same, per Charter’s assertions, but rather complementary products. We continue to invest in original content that premieres exclusively on our linear networks, including live sports, news and appointment viewing programming.

“Likewise, on our direct-to-consumer services, we make multi-billion-dollar investments in exclusive content, which is incremental to our linear networks.

“We offered Charter an extension in the negotiations to keep our networks up and they declined in the middle of programming that is important to their subscribers, including the U.S. Open. Charter’s actions are a disservice to consumers ahead of the kickoff for the college football season on ABC and ESPN’s networks. We value our relationship with Charter and we are ready to get back to the negotiation table to restore access to our unrivaled content to their customers as quickly as possible.”

Original ‘Snow White’ Animated Classic to Make 4K Ultra HD Debut Oct. 10

The Walt Disney Co. Aug. 30 announced its home entertainment team is preparing a restored and remastered 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first-ever animated feature — 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The film will be released on Oct. 10 in an O-sleeve. There will also be a number of retail exclusives, with Best Buy offering a special Steelbook and Walmart offering animated titles in Disney100 edition slipcovers with a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs collectible pin.

This will be the first time that the classic film has been made available in 4K UHD. The restoration program used a new scan of the original nitrate negative, with the creative input of Disney Animation experts Eric Goldberg (one of the modern masters of Disney animation) and Michael Giaimo (production designer of Wish, Frozen, Frozen 2 and Pocahontas). This newly restored version of the beloved film is part of Disney’s 100th anniversary celebration and follows the recent restoration of Disney Animation’s Cinderella, released in 4K UHD earlier this year.

 

Analyst: Disney CFO Departure Could Extend Bob Iger’s Reign Past 2024

Following the sudden departure of CFO Christine McCarthy due to a family medical leave, the employment term for CEO Bob Iger could be extended, according to a Wall Street analyst.

In a June 16 note to clients, Alan Gould with investment firm Loop Capital, wrote that McCarthy’s scheduled June 30 exit, and Kevin Lansberry’s planned July 1 takeover as interim CFO, could mean that Iger remains at the top executive position at Disney beyond his current two-year contract drawn up following the abrupt firing of previous CEO Bob Chapek last December.

Disney has said it would initiate a search for a permanent CFO.

“The [Disney] board is now in a position where it will be performing both CFO and CEO searches almost simultaneously,” Gould wrote, adding that the searches come as Disney faces increasing fiscal pressure to cut overhead costs in relation to its all-in streaming video strategy, while also dealing with political challenges in Florida, among other issues.

“Given … one of the most disruptive periods [in the company’s history], we speculate whether the board might ask Iger to remain CEO for an additional year,” Gould wrote.

Since reassuming the CEO position, Iger has given greater authority and accountability to business unit leaders, including Dana Walden and Alan Bergman at Disney Entertainment, Jimmy Pitaro at ESPN, and Josh D’Amaro at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

Disney CFO Christine McCarthy Stepping Down

Christine McCarthy, the Walt Disney Co.’s longtime CFO, is stepping down, citing a family medical leave. She will be replaced in the interim, beginning July 1, by Kevin Lansberry, CFO at Disney Parks and Resorts, until a permanent successor is found.

“I am immensely grateful for the opportunity [CEO] Bob [Iger] provided me to serve as CFO of this iconic company and am proud of the work my talented team has done to position Disney to capitalize on the business possibilities that lie ahead,” McCarthy said in a statement.

McCarthy, who joined Disney in 2000, became CFO in 2015 under Iger. She was reportedly instrumental in the termination of previous CEO Bob Chapek, which ushered in the return of Iger as CEO.

Her exit comes as Iger has initiated a 7,000-person employee downsizing in an effort to reduce costs as the company grapples with escalating overhead expenses related to its streaming services, which include Disney+, Disney + Hotstar in India, Star +, Hulu, Hulu + Live TV and ESPN+.

In 2021, Disney extended McCarthy’s employment contract through 2024.

“Among her many contributions to the company, one of the things I admire most about Christine is the generous mentorship she has provided to so many of her colleagues over the years, including countless women,” Iger said in a statement. “She has opened doors, created opportunities, and served as a role model for women at every level of business — not just at Disney, but around the world.”

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Company Vet Asad Ayaz Named Walt Disney’s First-Ever Chief Brand Officer, Overseeing All Studio Marketing, Including Streaming

Longtime Disney executive Asad Ayaz has been named the media giant’s first-ever chief brand officer, effective immediately, reporting directly to CEO Bob Iger.

In this newly created role, Ayaz will be responsible for elevating the Disney brand globally across the entire ecosystem of company touchpoints and consumer experiences. Ayaz will also continue as president of marketing, overseeing all aspects of publicity for the studios’ movies and TV series as well as for Disney+ globally, reporting to Disney co-chairman Alan Bergman.

Asad Ayaz

“Asad is an exceptional creative leader with a deep understanding of what Disney means to millions of people around the world,” Iger said in a statement. “His taking on this role is particularly noteworthy and consequential as we commemorate our historic 100th anniversary, and I am confident that his strategic, operational, and creative prowess, along with his profound passion for Disney, will make him an outstanding steward of our stories, characters, brands and franchises.”

As CBO, Ayaz will develop and execute brand marketing campaigns leveraged through partnerships, and provide guidance and alignment for the company’s digital and social media strategy and presence. He will set corporate synergy and franchise priorities in consultation with Iger and lead a global consumer research and analytics function focused on cross-platform initiatives.

Among other cross-company brand initiatives, Ayaz will oversee the Disney100 campaign as the company celebrates its 100th year. He recently led the development and creation of the Disney100 Special Look spot that debuted in this year’s Super Bowl, as well as the Studios’ new 100-year logo refresh now appearing on all Disney-branded films.

As president of marketing since 2018, Ayaz will continue to oversee all aspects of marketing for films and series from Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Studios, including strategy, creative advertising, media, digital, research, special events, promotions, international marketing, publicity and synergy.

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An 18-year Disney veteran, Ayaz has developed and led marketing campaigns for some of the Disney’s most successful movie releases, including Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Marvel Studios’ Black Panther and 20th Century’s Avatar: The Way of Water. Additional campaigns included live-action hits Aladdin and The Lion King; Walt Disney Animation’s Frozen 2 and Encanto; Pixar’s Toy Story 4 and Turning Red; 20th Century Studios’ Free Guy and Prey; along with Disney+ hit series including “The Mandalorian,” “WandaVision,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “Loki,” among many others.

In all, Ayaz has led the campaigns for the most-watched films on Disney+ and Hulu, and 13 of the top 15 box office debuts of all time, including six opening weekends over $200 million, as well as the biggest worldwide debut of all time for Avengers: Endgame, which earned over $1.2 billion in five days.

Disney Restructures Business Into Three Operating Units, Announces 7,000 Job Cuts

The Walt Disney Co. Feb. 8 announced it has restructured internal operations to return management control, accountability and fiscal result responsibility to content creators through the establishment of three core business units: Disney Entertainment, ESPN, and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

Speaking on the fiscal call, CEO Bob Iger, who late last year replaced his successor Bob Chapek as chief executive, said the restructuring would include the elimination of 7,000 jobs worldwide as part of $5.5 billion in projected cost savings.

“While this is necessary to address the challenges we are facing today, I do not make this decision lightly,” Iger said. “I have enormous respect and appreciation for the talent and dedication of our employees worldwide and I am mindful of the personal impact of these changes.”

Alan Bergman and Dana Walden have been named co-chairmen of Disney Entertainment, which includes Disney Studios, Disney+, Hulu and television operations worldwide.

Jimmy Pitaro will continue as chairman of ESPN, which includes ESPN networks and the ESPN+ streaming service. Josh D’Amaro continues as chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

Iger said Disney’s mission statement remains driven by “great storytelling and creativity,” which he said requires returning entertainment operational control to content creators.

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Content teams will now be in charge of determining what content is created, how it is distributed and monetized, and how it is marketed. Managing costs, maximizing revenue and driving growth from the content being created will be the teams’ respective responsibility, according to Iger.

“Virtually every dollar we earn, every transaction, every interaction with our consumers emanates from something created,” Iger said. “I’ve always believed that the best way to spur great creativity, is to make sure the people who are managing the creative processes feel empowered.”

Chapek Out as Disney CEO as Bob Iger Steps Back In

In a stunning twist, Bob Chapek is out as CEO of The Walt Disney Co. and Robert Iger, the man he replaced nearly three years ago, is back in.

Chapek, who ran home entertainment at Disney during the heyday of DVD and later became a vocal champion of Blu-ray Disc, was appointed CEO in February 2020, on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, and steered the company through uncertain times. Disney+ was just three months old when Chapek became CEO, and he shifted the company’s resources toward making it a success. 

Just this past June, Chapek was given a three-year contract extension, with board chair Susan Arnold saying in a press release, “The board is committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob’s leadership is key to achieving that goal. Bob is the right leader at the right time for The Walt Disney Co., and the board has full confidence in him and his leadership team.”

Returning CEO Bob Iger

But now, according to an evening announcement Sunday, Nov. 20, “Iger is returning to lead Disney as chief executive officer, effective immediately. Mr. Iger, who spent more than four decades at the company, including 15 years as its CEO, has agreed to serve as Disney’s CEO for two years, with a mandate from the board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the board in developing a successor to lead the company at the completion of his term.”

Chapek, according to the board announcement, “has stepped down from his position.”

In a Nov. 20 statement, Arnold said, “We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.”

Chapek’s exit comes as the company’s stock is trading at around $91 a share, the lowest it’s been since the global pandemic declaration in mid-March 2020. Earlier in November, Chapek announced a hiring and travel freeze in an effort to contain costs, which soared this past quarter due to streaming expenses.  

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And yet Disney+, The Walt Disney Co.’s flagship streaming service, finished the quarter ended Oct. 1 with more than 164 million global subscribers — an impressive 39% gain from the same quarter a year ago.

The 62-year-old Chapek, born in Chicago but raised in Indiana, joined Disney in 1993 as marketing chief for the company’s home entertainment division, then known as Buena Vista Home Entertainment. In 2006 he was promoted to president of the division, just as Blu-ray Disc was being launched, and he aggressively promoted the new format through innovative bonus features and extravagant promotions that included a mall tour engineered by then-publicity head Eric Maehara.

In 2009, Chapek was promoted again, to head of distribution for Walt Disney Studios. He was named head of consumer products in 2011 and spearheaded the integration of “Star Wars” merchandise into Disney’s licensing program after the studio acquired Lucasfilm.

In February 2015, Chapek was appointed  chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Over the next five years, he oversaw the completion of Shanghai Disneyland, Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

He was upped to CEO three weeks before the World Health Organization declared a global COVID pandemic on March 11, 2020. Iger, who had been CEO since 2005, remained at Disney as executive chairman until the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021. He is 71.

Disney Promotes April Carretta to Head of Communications, Direct to Consumer

Veteran home entertainment publicity executive April Carretta has been promoted to head of communications, direct to consumer, for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, The Walt Disney Co. announced Sept. 21.

Carretta leads communications globally for Disney’s direct-to-consumer video streaming businesses. In her new role, she oversees proactive and integrated communications, including consumer, content publicity, international, crisis communications and incident management, as well as internal employee communications.

Carretta, a 20-year veteran of the business, reports to Heather Hust Rivera, SVP of Communications for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. 

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 Carretta joined Disney in 2019 through its acquisition of 20th Century Fox. She initially led communications for Disney’s Platform Distribution organization, playing a key role in shaping communications across all of DMED’s third-party media sales efforts for distribution, content sales agreements, affiliate marketing for direct-to-consumer services and linear media networks, global theatrical film distribution, and other Disney properties including Disney Music Group and the El Capitan Theater.

Prior to joining Disney, Carretta spent nearly four years as SVP of global communications and partnerships for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, as a key member of publicity chief James Finn’s team. She had been recruited to  spearhead integrated marketing, corporate communications, global partnerships and next-gen technology initiatives at the studio, the latter a key priority for then-division head Mike Dunn.

Prior to Fox, Carretta had enjoyed a more-than-eight-year run at the Edelman agency, most recently as SVP of digital and consumer marketing. There, she oversaw strategic communications and digital marketing plans for the agency’s largest accounts, including Walmart, Best Buy, Quaker Oats, Unilever and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI).

From 2005 to 2007, Carretta was manager of worldwide publicity at Sony Pictures Entertainment under SVP of worldwide publicity Fritz Friedman.

Disney Direct to Consumer is part of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, which manages The Walt Disney Co.’s content commercialization and distribution ecosystem. DMED is responsible for the monetization of content from the company’s content engines — Studios, General Entertainment and Sports. This includes P&L management and operations of the company’s portfolio of streaming services; its linear television channels the ABC-owned stations; theatrical film distribution; content licensing and distribution; and global advertising sales.