Disney to Furlough Non-Essential Employees Beginning April 19

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, The Walt Disney Co. will start furloughing non-essential U.S. employees April 19, the company announced.

Disney committed to full pay and benefits for all employees through April 18.

“With no clear indication of when we can restart our businesses, we’re forced to make the difficult decision to take the next step and furlough employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time,” a Disney representative said in a statement.

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Furloughed workers will remain Disney employees through the furlough period and will receive full healthcare benefits with Disney will paying the cost of premiums.

Disney did not report the number of employees that would be affected.

Disney Parks Donates 100,000 N95 Masks, 150,000 Rain Ponchos to Healthcare Workers

With its amusement parks shuttered, The Walt Disney Co. April 1 announced it is giving healthcare workers in California, New York and Florida access to 100,000 N95 masks and 150,000 rain ponchos.

“Disney Parks has a longstanding history of helping hospitals and communities, dating back to the 1930s, when Walt, himself, took Disney characters and animators on outreach visits,” Disney said in a blog post. “Sharing the magic of Disney continues today through contributions, collaborating with nonprofit organizations, in-kind gifts and employee volunteerism.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we’ve seen before,” said Charles Redding, MedShare CEO. “We have to find ways to pool our resources and work together to help the healthcare workers who are doing their very best to treat patients and contain COVID-19. We appreciate Disney partnering with us to support hospitals and healthcare workers on the frontlines.”

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With all 12 of its branded theme parks closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney said since the beginning of March, its Parks segment has given nearly $3 million in in-kind donations benefiting communities around the globe.

“These are some of the ways Disney brings positive, lasting change to communities around the world,” the media giant said.

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Disney Executives Forgo Salary, Perks During Pandemic

While some media companies have set aside tens of millions of dollars for displaced workers and production personnel, The Walt Disney Co. is cutting salaries and perks to senior executives as its business units get hammered from all directions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With nearly all business segments either idled or severely curtailed due to shutdowns and consumer quarantines in major markets, Disney will subject its senior executives to significant payroll cuts and related perks, effective April 5.

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According to a regulatory filing, former CEO Bob Iger, who earlier this year transitioned to executive chairman, will forgo his entire $3 million salary, in addition to the use of a company car. Disney will still pay Iger his health care benefits.

Iger’s successor, Bob Chapek, will have his $2.5 million salary cut in half. In addition, general counsel Alan Braverman, CFO Christine McCarthy, human resources chief Jayne Parker, and head of corporate communications Zenia Mucha will see 30% cuts to their base salaries.

Disney said that except for the amount of compensation for paid time off, the salary reductions are not intended to reduce any company employee benefit provided to executives that is determined by reference to the base salary payable, except as may be required at law.

Chapek is still eligible for a bonus of “not less than 300% of the annual base salary,” according to a SEC filing. He is also in line for “a long-term incentive award having a target value of not less than $15 million” for each fiscal year of the agreement through Feb. 28, 2023.

The cuts come as Wall Street downgrades Disney’s fiscal estimates going forward. Credit Suisse analyst Doug Mitchelson, in a note, said his two-week old forecasts for Disney are moot.

“There remains virtually no visibility as to when sports and Hollywood content production will resume and re-openings for theme parks and theaters will take place — we assume beginning of June,” Mitchelson wrote. “As for the media business, the depth of ad declines is also uncertain.”

It should be noted that base salaries are what constitutes the majority of Disney’s payroll taxes and related employee costs. The bulk of senior executive compensation revolves around stock options, which are based on, and compensated by, the stock market.

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Indeed, Iger received total compensation in excess of $66 million in 2018 and $47.5 million in 2019 — the bulk of it stock options and bonuses, including a combined $18.5 million if he remained employed with the company past July 2, 2019, and closing of the Fox studio acquisition.

The Disney board  later rescinded the Fox bonus (after fiscal contributions plummeted) and Iger voluntarily forfeited the employment deadline perk.

Bob Iger: Disney+ Streaming Service Nearing 30 Million Subs

Retired Disney CEO Bob Iger March 11 told attendees at the media giant’s annual shareholder meeting in Raleigh, N.C., that the company would successfully withstand challenges from the global spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We’re all sobered by the concern we feel for everyone affected by this global crisis,” Iger said. “What we’ve demonstrated repeatedly is that we are incredibly resilient.”

The executive chairman, who introduced successor Bob Chapek to shareholders, said Disney’s future remains bright.

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“What we create at the Wall Disney Co. has never been more necessary or more important,” Iger said.

Indeed, his comments come as Disney said Tokyo Disneyland would remain shuttered until April. Shanghai Disney remains closed expect for select retail merchants. Disneyland Paris remains open.

Separately, Iger said the branded subscription streaming service, Disney+, had reached nearly 30 million subscribers in just three months of operation.

“The decision to pivot to a direct-to-c0nsumerstrategy was a critical one and it is our top priority,” Iger said. Disney+ will launch in Europe on March 24.

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Disney Inks Streaming Deal for Fox Movies in Nordic Region

Disney’s subscription streaming service Disney+ is headed to Europe. But in the meantime, Disney is extending a licensing agreement for select Fox movie and ABC TV content to Nordic Entertainment Group (NENT Group).

As part of the deal, NENT’s Viaplay streaming service and Viasat pay-tv platform have exclusive region rights to new release movies from 20th Century Studios. Viaplay subscribers also have ABC series “Grey’s Anatomy,” in addition to Fox catalog movies.

The Fox film slate for 2020 includes Oscar-winning Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite and Oscar-nominated Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari, in addition to the most recent instalment in the Terminator franchise.

Fox library titles include Alien, Planet of the Apes, Die Hard and Deadpool, in addition to Pretty Woman and Braveheart.

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“This agreement will extend our relationship with Disney to nearly 20 years and showcases both the popularity of their content with our viewers and the fantastic viewing experiences available on Viaplay and ViaSat,” Filippa Wallestam, NENT Group chief content officer, said in a statement.

NENT is also offering Fox+, an on-demand service with more than 4,000 TV episodes, including “24,” “Prison Break,” and “Futurama.” National Geographic+ features 600 documentary episodes, in addition Fox films and series, “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Simpsons” and “Bones” on its free and pay-TV packages.

NENT is responsible for advertising sales for Fox and Disney channels in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

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“We are delighted to extend and expand our content partnership with NENT Group as we together look to bring Nordic audiences more original stories across more screens from the legendary 20th Century Studios,” said Hans van Rijn, SVP and country manager of The Walt Disney Company Nordic.

Disney+ Ended Q1 with 26.5 Million Subs; Adding 2.1 Million Through Feb. 4

Disney’s high-profile subscription streaming video platform continues to produce subscribers — and costs.

Disney Feb. 4 revealed the SVOD service ended the first quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2019) with 26.5 million subscribers, up significantly from the 20.8 million projected following the service’s Nov. 12 launch. Disney+ generated 10 million subscriptions in the first 24 hours.

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“We had a strong first quarter, highlighted by the launch of Disney+, which has exceeded even our greatest expectations,” CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “Thanks to our incredible collection of brands, outstanding content from our creative engines and state-of-the-art technology, we believe our direct-to-consumer services, including Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu, position us well for continued growth in today’s dynamic media environment.”

Indeed, Disney+ has almost caught (Disney owned) Hulu, which ended 2019 with 27.2 million subs. Netflix ended the year with 61.4 million domestic subs.

At the same time, Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer & International segment, which includes Disney+, saw revenue increase from $900 million to $4 billion and segment operating loss grow from $136 million to $693 million. The increase in operating loss was due to costs associated with the launch of Disney+, the consolidation of Hulu and a higher loss at ESPN+. These increases were partially offset by a benefit from the inclusion of the 20th Century Fox Film business, and due to income at the international channels, including Star India.

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Disney Dropping ‘Fox’ From Content Branding

The Walt Disney Company will drop the “Fox” name from some of the assets it acquired in its $71.3 billion buyout of 21st Century Fox studio from the Murdoch family last March, according to reports.

As such, the 20th Century Fox film studio will now be known as 20th Century Studios, while the studio’s indie arm, Fox Searchlight Pictures, is now just Searchlight Pictures. Logos for the newly named subsidiaries have been similarly updated without the “Fox” name.

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The name change has apparently not yet extended to Disney-owned production units 20th Century Fox Television and Fox 21 Television Studios, though a potential name change could be coming on that front as well, according to Variety.

Also unknown is how the rebranding will affect the name of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Inquiries to the studio have not yet been answered.

The primary reason for the re-branding is to distinguish the new Disney-owned properties from assets such as the Fox broadcast network and Fox News Channel that were not included with the sale and are still controlled by the Murdoch family under the Fox Corp. banner.

Disney has already started phasing out “Fox” from company email addresses and is using the Fox-less branding for upcoming projects such as the films Downhill and Call of the Wild.

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Interestingly, the history of the 20th Century Fox studio began with the merger of two independent studios in 1935: Twentieth Century Pictures, founded in 1933, and Fox Film Corporation, founded in 1915. Rupert Murdoch bought 20th Century-Fox in the 1980s and dropped the hyphen from the name. Fox Searchlight was created in 1994.

Iconic 20th Century Fox studio elements such as the spotlight logo and the musical fanfare date back to the Twentieth Century Pictures days, and will be retained by Disney.

‘Star Wars,’ Comic Books and the Legacy of Fox

One of the overriding concerns of the aftermath of the Walt Disney Co.’s purchase of 20th Century Fox studios has been how the House of Mouse would treat its newfound assets and the legacy of the studio in general.

The immediate assumption was that the studio was bolstering its content roster for the Disney+ streaming service, which we have seen come to pass with the myriad Fox catalog titles available on the service, such as Home Alone, The Sound of Music and 30 seasons of “The Simpsons.”

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Other questions centered on how Disney would treat established Fox franchises such as “Aliens” or “Die Hard,” and the latest reports have Disney interested in a new “Planet of the Apes” sequel. The fate of Fox’s comic book properties is a bit more cut and dry, with the “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four” licenses simply being reabsorbed back into Disney’s Marvel subsidiary, which many fans wanted anyway (and while we’re on the subject, can I pitch a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vs. Blade crossover?).

On the downside, though, are reports that Disney was cutting back authorizations for repertory theaters to show prints of Fox catalog movies — these are the special screenings you might find at film festivals or smaller theaters that show classic movies one night a week.

And on Disney+, old Fox movies were being lumped in with Disney fare in “Disney Through the Decades” categories.

These tend to bely the assumption that Disney would be keeping Fox as a separate theatrical unit, perhaps to distribute edgier, ‘R’-rated content.

The latest example involves, of all things, a reprint of a classic comic book. In the run up to the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Disney subsidiary Marvel Comics Dec. 4 released reprints of several “Star Wars” comic book issues, including “Star Wars” No. 1 from 1977.

Marvel Comics’ original “Star Wars #1” from 1977 on the left, the 2019 reprint on the right

While reprints such as these are rather commonplace in the comic book industry, usually they involve the original pages of art and dialogue being repurposed with modern advertisements, and other changes such as new cover artwork.

The reprint of the original issue of “Star Wars,” however, was what is called a “facsimile edition,” which generally means the original issue is reprinted in its entirety, with the original ads and all. The only updates are usually the pricing, UPC code and the legal text with the copyrights and statements of ownership.

Marvel had also published the original run of “Star Wars” comics in the 1970s and 1980s, so a facsimile edition of the first issue makes sense for them to do. (The first issue, being the first part of an adaptation of the first movie, has been reprinted several times over the years in trade paperback collections by both Marvel and Dark Horse Comics, which had the “Star Wars” license throughout the 1990s and early 2000s).

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Interestingly, this facsimile edition is missing two prominent instances that identified the original “Star Wars” film as a 20th Century Fox release. The first is on the cover, where the comic is described as “Marvel’s Epic Official Adaptation of The Monumental 20th Century Fox Movie! — A Film by George Lucas.” The second is on the first page of the comic, under the masthead as part of the introduction of the story, which identified the film as “A 20th Century-Fox Release” (using the hyphen from the studio’s old branding).

The introduction to “Star Wars #1” from 2015/2019 reprint on top without the 20th Century-Fox credit, compared to the original version below.

The facsimile edition reads “Marvel’s Epic Official Adaptation of — A Film by George Lucas” on the cover. And the first page instead has prominent Disney and Lucasfilm logos stamped at the bottom, with a blank space where the mention of 20th Century-Fox used to be.

While it’s not uncommon for comic book companies when reprinting material obtained from other companies to remove or replace the old company’s logos (for example, Dark Horse reprints of this issue would remove the Marvel logo), reprints of “Star Wars” No. 1 prior to Disney owning Lucasfilm left the Fox credit intact.

It turns out that Disney and Marvel (which Disney bought in 2009) first removed the Fox credit when the original 1970s and 1980s Marvel “Star Wars” comics were reprinted as hardcover omnibus editions in 2015, and that this new facsimile is based off of that reprinting, from before Disney’s acquisition of Fox (and not wanting to publicize what was then a rival studio). Rather than restore the text in the facsimile edition, Marvel used the altered versions they already had ready to go.

1977 version on top, 2015/2019 version below

The idea of leaving off the 20th Century Fox credit from the “Star Wars” movie now seems especially bizarre given how Disney+ restored the 20th Century Fox logo to the beginning of the first six “Star Wars” movies — after removing them from the digital releases of the films after it bought Lucasfilm in 2012 (with the exception of the original film, which maintained the Fox logo since Fox had distribution rights to the film in perpetuity).

The ‘Bulletins’ page of the “Star Wars #1” facsimile showing the original unaltered cover art.

But alas, all traces of Fox’s connection to that first comic book weren’t removed from the artwork entirely. The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page near the back of the issue, essentially a “Notes from the Publisher/Letters to the Editor” type of page, has a miniature picture of the cover, and this version wasn’t altered in the facsimile edition, so at least Fox’s legacy survives there.



Disney+ Appoints Chris Loveall to International Content Post

Disney+ has appointed international programming executive Chris Loveall to the position of VP of content — international.

Loveall will report into Matt Brodlie, SVP of international content development, working closely with him and Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International’s regional teams on the development and production of original scripted and unscripted series, as well as acquisitions for all markets outside of the United States.

“Chris has great instincts and a deep understanding of storytelling opportunities in the international marketplace,” Brodlie said in a statement. “He will be a tremendous asset as we grow a rich, diverse slate of original content that builds on the Disney+ storytelling ethos in ways that are unique to each of our international markets.”

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“I’m excited to be part of the Disney+ team and look forward to working with them to identify and develop stories that resonate with fans of the service around the world,” Loveall said in a statement.

Loveall most recently served as VP of international programming for AMC Networks, including AMC, SundanceTV and BBC America, and was responsible for the development of original international commissions and co-productions as well as select acquisitions for each network. For SundanceTV, he oversaw the co-productions “Liar” with ITV and “Rosehaven” and “Cleverman” with the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Prior to joining the AMC Networks group, Loveall served as VP of original programming at Pivot, developing scripted drama, comedy and animation projects, as well as overseeing international co-productions including “Fortitude” with Sky Atlantic and “Please Like Me” with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. He has also held a number of programming-focused positions at ABC Signature Studios, The CW and other production companies.

Disney Reports 10 Million Disney+ Sign-Ups on Day One

The Walt Disney Co. Nov. 13 reported its branded subscription streaming video service, Disney+, generated 10 million sign-ups on its first day (Nov. 12) of operation.

The tally, while impressive, does not constitute actual subscribers since Disney is giving a free 7-day trial to anyone signing up for the $6.99 service.

But the numbers underscore strong consumer interest/demand for Disney’s official foray into SVOD, and might help explain why the platform had numerous tech glitches in its first hours of operation catering to “exceedingly” high demand.

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Disney has projected 60 million to 90 million subs within the first five years, which would be significantly less than Netflix’s current 160 million worldwide sub count.

Online digital tracker Apptopia earlier in the day disclosed that more than 3.2 million people downloaded the Disney+ app in its first few hours. The company reported 89% of the downloads originated in the United States, while 9% came from Canada and 2% from Holland.