Disney to Pause All Business in Russia in Response to Ukraine Invasion

The Walt Disney Company March 10 announced it would expand its pause of business dealings in Russia in response to the country’s attack on Ukraine. 

“Last week, after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we announced that we were pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia and reviewing the rest of our businesses there,” said a spokesperson for the Walt Disney Company. “Given the unrelenting assault on Ukraine and the escalating humanitarian crisis, we are taking steps to pause all other businesses in Russia. This includes content and product licensing, Disney Cruise Line activities, National Geographic magazine and tours, local content productions and linear channels.

“Some of those business activities we can and will pause immediately. Others — such as linear channels and some content and product licensing — will take time given contractual complexities.

“Even as we pause these businesses, we remain committed to our dedicated colleagues in Russia, who will remain employed. And we continue to work with our NGO partners to provide urgent aid and other much-needed assistance to refugees.”

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Disney Names Alexia Quadrani New Head of Investor Relations

Disney has named Alexia Quadrani as its new head of investor relations. Quadrani, who replaces the departed Lowell Singer, most recently served as managing director and senior analyst for J.P. Morgan’s U.S. media equity research group. She will report directly to Disney CFO Christine McCarthy.

Alexia Quadrani

“Alexia is a highly skilled financial professional whose expertise as an industry analyst and strong network of relationships across the investment community make her an excellent choice to lead our investor relations team,” McCarthy said in a statement. “I am confident that Alexia’s deep knowledge of the media sector, and Disney’s business in particular, make her especially well-suited to communicate our long-term strategy and financial performance to the investor community, and I am very excited to welcome her to my team.”

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Quadrani will serve as Disney’s information liaison to the global investment community, while working as a key advisor and resource to the company’s senior management team. Her responsibilities include expanding the Disney’s relationships with sell-side and buy-side investment analysts, industry analysts, and investors worldwide. She will also provide input on the company’s financial reporting activities, manage stock share administration, and lead ongoing engagement with the governance community and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) focused investors.

While at J.P. Morgan, Quadrani’s coverage included entertainment, advertising and video game stocks. She joined J.P. Morgan in 2008 through its merger with Bear Stearns, where she had served as senior managing director since 1997. She was an institutional investor-ranked analyst for over 20 years.

Quadrani holds an MBA in finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a B.S. from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Disney Premier Access/PPV Revenue Jumped 70% to $933 Million in 2021

Disney made headlines when it generated $60 million in high-margin premium video-on-demand (or Disney+ Premier Access) revenue for the opening weekend box office release of Marvel Studios’ Black Widow.

Disney didn’t disclose further PVOD revenue until the Nov. 24 release of the media giant’s annual 10-K report. In the filing, Disney said it generated $933 million in revenue from the combined PVOD sales of Widow, Cruella, Jungle Cruise and Raya and the Last Dragon, in addition to 13 UFC pay-per-view bouts on ESPN+.

That was 70% higher revenue than the $550 million generated from the Premier Access debut of Mulan and 11 PPV UFC fights in the prior fiscal year.

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While Premier Access delivers Disney higher margins than other distribution channels, including theatrical, critics contend that PVOD undermines the movie’s theatrical potential — a mindset that led Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson to file a lawsuit against Disney alleging PVOD undermined her contractually mandated compensation. Johansson and Disney settled their disagreement out of court.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the studio would continue to explore concurrent theatrical/Premier Access releases in 2022, in addition to releasing movies in different channels depending on the movie and market conditions.

“We will always do what we believe is in the best interest of the film and the best interests of our constituents,” Chapek told investors in August.

Meanwhile, the motto “Go big or go home” appears to be Disney’s outlook for fiscal-year 2022 as it seeks to significantly ramp up spending on original content, sports rights and capital expenditures.

In line with the company putting most of its eggs into its direct-to-consumer businesses (i.e., Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, Hulu + Live TV), Disney said it expects to spend upwards of $33 billion on original content, productions and live sports rights — up about 25%, or $8 billion from FY 2021.

In the report, Disney said the increased expenditures would be driven by higher spend to support “our DTC expansion” and “generally assumes no significant disruptions to production due to COVID-19.”

Disney will again dominate the 2021 domestic box office with five of the top 12 movies in ticket sales thus far, led by Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings with $224 million. The Thanksgiving weekend release of animated movie Encanto is expected to add to the studio’s haul.

The top-grossing global theatrical release in 2021 remains China’s The Battle at Lake Changjin, the nationalist war drama that has generated an impressive $888 million at the largely Asian box office.

Parrot Analytics: Disney+ Second Only to Netflix in U.S. Originals Demand

Disney+ is the second-most in-demand platform for original series with U.S. audiences. and The Walt Disney Company is in first place in corporate demand share, according to data from Parrot Analytics.

Disney+ became the second-most in-demand streaming service for original content with American audiences for the first time ever last quarter with an 8.9% share, leaping over longtime second place holder Amazon Prime Video with 8.6%, according to Parrot.

Disney remains far and away the top media conglomerate in the United States when it comes to corporate demand share — a consolidation of original demand where platforms are combined based on their corporate parent, according to Parrot. Disney’s 20.1% share last quarter was well ahead of second place ViacomCBS (13.1%). Disney’s share is larger than the combined share of WarnerMedia and Discovery (12.1% + 7.1% = 19.2%), which are in the process of merging. Collectively, the six largest media corporations control almost three quarters of U.S. demand for TV series, while 27.4% of audience attention goes to originals from other platforms.

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Parrot also found:

  • Disney is in second place in overall demand for original children’s content.
  • Disney+ and Hulu originals accounted for five of the six most in-demand new series released in the U.S. in the last quarter.
  • Disney+ accounted for four of the 10 most in-demand digital original series with both U.S. and worldwide audiences last quarter. 

ViacomCBS to Acquire Stake in Spanish-Language Content Producer

ViacomCBS Networks International (VCNI) has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire a majority stake in the Spanish-language content producer Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico from The Walt Disney Co. and the founding family of Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico.

ViacomCBS International Studios’ VIS, a division of VCNI, will operate Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico as a collaborative partnership with the founding family. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval and customary closing conditions.

Through this transaction, VCNI will gain access to Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico’s studio operations in both Colombia and Mexico, as well as many hours of library content, including premium series, telenovelas, films, documentaries, unscripted, kids and family, branded and digital content, and live sports shows produced for various audiences. This content will fuel ViacomCBS’s global streaming platforms including Paramount+ and Pluto TV, and its linear networks around the world, according to the company. Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico will also bolster ViacomCBS’ Spanish-language content production capabilities to capitalize on significant content demand in the region and worldwide, the company noted.

“The acquisition of Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico, combined with ViacomCBS’s existing Spanish-language portfolio including Telefe and Chilevisión, reinforces the company’s position as a leading worldwide producer of Spanish-language content,” Raffaele Annecchino, president and CEO, ViacomCBS Networks International, said in a statement. “This content will fuel ViacomCBS’ global ecosystem across Paramount+, Pluto TV and its linear networks.”

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“This announcement is very fulfilling and I feel very honored that Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico will continue its expansion and growth in the hands of such an amazing company as ViacomCBS and its talented and visionary executives,” Samuel Duque Rozo, founder and CEO of Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico, said in a statement. “The extraordinary work that our team has made during all these years, combined with ViacomCBS’s vision, iconic brands, experience, professionalism, creativity among much more, will bring nothing less but the best for both businesses.”

Rozo will continue to exclusively support the business from a creative and strategic advisory position, and Samuel Duque Duque, current president, will lead the business. Fox TeleColombia & Estudios TeleMexico will fall under the remit of Juan “JC” Acosta, President of ViacomCBS International Studios and Networks Americas.

The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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.”