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’s Bob Chapek: No Turning Back From Streaming Video

Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek has seen the direct-to-consumer future and he’s not looking back. Speaking March 1 on the virtual Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference, Chapek said that while Walt Disney Studios embraces the theatrical market, consumer reality — with or without the pandemic — has altered the playing field.

“I think the consumer is probably more impatient than they’ve ever been before because now they’ve had the luxury of an entire year of getting [movies] at home pretty much when they want them,” Chapek said. “I’m not sure there’s a going back, but we certainly don’t want to cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run.”

The executive doubts consumers will have much tolerance for the traditional theatrical window keeping a movie out of the marketplace for months with another distribution model “just sitting there getting dust.”

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On March 5, Disney will offer Raya and the Last Dragon to consumers via Premier Access, only the second Disney title since Mulan afforded the more-expensive PVOD retail distribution model

Raya and the Last Dragon

“It makes a lot of sense right now in a COVID world to have [another] option,” Chapek said. “Theaters are not going to be 100% back. It’s nice to know that people have that choice. But we like to let the consumer be our guide in almost all situations.”

Disney survived a calamitous 2020 — a year that saw the company’s legacy parks and amusements, cruise business and studio shuttered overnight a year ago due to the pandemic. Switching gears, the company focused on streaming video, specifically Disney+, Hulu (Hulu+Live TV) and ESPN+, ending last year with upwards of 150 million combined subscribers when excluding India.

“We essentially had to make a decision: Are we going to stay the course? Are we going to slow down investment and reserve cash? As you know, we stepped on the throttle pretty heavily and accelerated, figuring this was the time to make a giant leap forward,” Chapek said.

The former home entertainment executive contends Disney’s addressable DTC market is 1.1 billion people. As a result, he said the company chose investing “dramatically” in content and restructuring the company to better deal with the direct-to-consumer challenges in the pandemic era and beyond.

When asked about Disney’s move toward engaging consumers directly rather than through retail, Chapek said the company is well-versed with the strategy from its amusement and hospitality businesses. He said that unlike those legacy businesses, direct-to-consumer affords increased “frequency of engagement” and number of touch points.

“There’s an exponential benefit when you take the deep knowledge of our parks guest and … the direct-to-consumer, and put it all together by technology,” he said.

The executive said management has been surprised by the global appeal of Disney+, especially among non-families. Indeed, 50% of Disney+ subs worldwide do not have children, which he said opens up the possibility for more-expansive content offerings.

“That’s a big difference,” Chapek said.

He dismissed suggestions about a streaming war with Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max and Peacock, saying there doesn’t have to one winner, but rather several.

“We think we’re tremendously positioned for DTC services,” Chapek said, alluding to the company’s planned $8 billion to $9 billion in streaming video investment through 2024. Disney unveiled 100 new titles at its recent investor day event in December.

Disney earned $11 billion at the global box office in 2019, which Chapek said remains “a big deal to us.” Notably, the CEO finds “more profound” the changes in consumer behavior towards movie consumption. To meet the rapidly evolving changes, Chapek said Disney has to be a “a nimble organization,” while acknowledging that the “sands under our feet” are shifting.

“Consumer behavior is shifting,” he said. “Consumer preferences are shifting. We want to make sure that as that happens, we are on the front of those waves, anticipating those changes.”

Hulu Adding Access to ESPN+, Exclusive 20th Century Movies, 5th Season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ SEC College Football; Hulu With Live TV Tops 4 Million Subs

SVOD pioneer Hulu will offer its 38.8 million subscriber access to the ESPN+ sports streaming service in 2021. Hulu’s online TV platform, Hulu With Live TV, now tops 4 million subscribers, making it the top online TV platform and fifth-largest pay-TV operator in the U.S.

“Users can sign up or enjoy existing ESPN+ subscriptions without ever having to leave the Hulu app,” Hulu president Kelly Campbell said on Disney’s Investor Day Dec. 10. Campbell said the SVOD platform in 2021 would bow original movies from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight. The platform also greenlighted a fifth season of original hit series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

ESPN+, which had 11.5 million subscribers as of Dec. 2, will begin streaming select Southeastern Conference college football games in 2021. ABC TV (and ESPN+) will become the exclusive SEC broadcasters in 2024 for 10 years, including the SEC Championship. The SEC, which is currently broadcast on CBS and ESPN, includes perennial national champion contender University of Alabama, in addition to the University of Georgia, University of Florida and Louisiana State University, among other schools.

“This is a significant day for the Southeastern Conference and for the future of our member institutions. Our agreement with ESPN will greatly enhance our ability to support our student-athletes in the years ahead and to further enrich the game day experience for SEC fans around the world,” Greg Sankey, SEC Commissioner, said in a statement. “One of our primary goals was to improve the television scheduling process in ways that will benefit our students, coaches, alumni and fans. By working in collaboration with ESPN, we were able to secure an agreement that includes more lead time for many game time announcements, and in many ways modernizes the college football scheduling process.”

Activist Investor Urges Disney to Increase SVOD Spending

Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb continues to see opportunity in the pandemic-throttled entertainment sector — most notably at The Walt Disney Co.

Loeb’s Third Point Management, which has more than $10.8 billion in assets, has spent much of the COVID-19 era buying up a depressed Disney stock undermined by amusement park and cruise ship closures, and waylaid studio releases, among other issues, that were reportedly costing the company $30 million in daily overhead.

Now Loeb, who is one of Disney’s largest single investors, is calling on Disney CEO Bob Chapek and the board not to authorize the company’s annual $3 billion dividend — a surprising stance considering most activist investors implore companies to give back more to stock holders; not less.

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In an Oct. 7 letter to Chapek, Loeb wants the board to re-direct dividend funds to content spending on Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+, the latter Disney’s high-profile subscription streaming video-on-demand platform the investor contends has a legitimate shot at usurping market behemoth Netflix — both in subscribers and content.

“By reallocating a dividend of a few dollars per share, Disney could more than double its Disney+ original content budget,” Loeb wrote. “The ability to drive subscriber growth, reduce churn, and increase pricing present the opportunity to create tens of billions of dollars in incremental value for Disney shareholders in short order, and hundreds of billions once the platform reaches larger scale.”

Specifically, the investor contends Disney+ has largely outdistanced subscriber growth projections by offering classic Disney, Pixar and “Star Wars” movies, with little spent on original programming except for “The Mandalorian,” among other content. Disney ended the most-recent fiscal period with more than 60.5 million subscribers. The company had originally projected 60 million to 90 million subs by 2024.

Indeed, while Disney is spending about $1 billion on original content in 2020, Netflix is reportedly spending nearly $17 billion, with plans to spend upwards of $28 billion by 2028.

“A more aggressive content roadmap will distinguish Disney as the only traditional U.S. media company able to thrive in a world beyond the box office and the cable TV ecosystem, alongside digital-first businesses like Netflix and Amazon,” Loeb wrote.

Disney Suspends Disney+ SVOD Service Launch in India

Disney has called off the March 29 launch of its branded subscription streaming video service, Disney+, in India due to myriad issues involving the global coronavirus pandemic. The planned March 24 launch of the service in Europe remains on.

With India halting all commercial airline traffic within its borders and the suspension of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament, Disney planned promotions around the service’s launch with its Hotstar over-the-top video platform came to a halt. Hotstar reportedly generates more than 300 million monthly views with its app and website.

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“We recently announced that Disney Plus would launch in India through the Hotstar service in conjunction with beginning of the Indian Premier League cricket season,” Uday Shankar, president of The Walt Disney Company APAC, and chairman of Star and Disney India, said in a statement. “Given the delay of the [cricket] season, we have made the decision to briefly pause the roll-out of Disney Plus and will announce a new revised premiere date for the service soon.”

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With School Closures Due to Coronavirus, Disney+ Debuts ‘Frozen II’ March 15, Three Months Early

After a wave of school closures were announced March 13 due to concerns over the coronavirus, the Walt Disney Co. that night announced that Frozen II will be available for viewing on Disney+ three months ahead of schedule, beginning March 15.

Bob Chapek, the former Disney home entertainment chief who recently was elevated to CEO of the Walt Disney Co., said, “Frozen II has captivated audiences around the world through its powerful themes of perseverance and the importance of family, messages that are incredibly relevant during this time, and we are pleased to be able to share this heartwarming story early with our Disney+ subscribers to enjoy at home on any device.”

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Frozen II will be available on Disney+ in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand on March 17.

In the United States, the film will initially be available in high-definition, with Ultra HD video playback available to all subscribers on March 17.

Frozen II for the last two weeks was the top-selling DVD and Blu-ray Disc, according to VideoScan.

The film was released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray combo pack and DVD on Feb. 25, two weeks after it was made available through digital retailers.

 

Disney+ Launching in Western Europe March 31, 2020

Disney’s high-profile subscription streaming video service is launching in the United States, Canada and Holland on Nov. 12. The platform will be rolled out across Western Europe (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) on March 31, 2020.

CEO Bob Iger made the announcement during the company Nov. 7 fiscal webcast, saying test runs in Holland had proved successful.

“Even without access to our full library or any original content, the service connected with users across all four quadrants, male and female, adults and kids, driven by the breadth of our content and the affinity people of all ages have for it,” Iger said about the previously disclosed Dutch tests.

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He said Disney has spent the last few years “completely transforming” the company through strategic acquisitions [i.e. BAMTech, 20th Century Fox, Hulu] and organizational changes to focus the resources and creativity across the entire company on delivering an “extraordinary” DTC experience.

Disney’s direct-to-consumer segment is projected to lose upwards of $850 million in the current first quarter through ongoing investments in Disney+ and consolidation of Hulu — the latter ending the fiscal year with 28.5 million subscribers.

“We’re making a huge statement about the future of media and entertainment and our continued ability to thrive in this new era,” Iger said.

Brad Pitt’s ‘Ad Astra’ Gets Home Release Dates

Twentieth Century Fox, now a division of the Walt Disney Co., has set home release dates for Ad Astra, the science-fiction movie starring Brad Pitt that grossed just under $50 million at the domestic box office.

The film will be released digitally on Dec. 3, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Dec. 17.

Pitt portrays astronaut Roy McBride, who springs into action when a mysterious life-threatening event strikes earth. He embarks on a dangerous mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

Extras on the Blu-ray Disc include two deleted scenes, with an optional audio commentary from director, producer and writer James Gray, and several featurettes, including a making-of documentary and a look at the crew of the Cepheus.

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An audio commentary from Gray is available on the Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD version only.

The digital version comes with a look at the special effects.

Bob Iger Steps Down From Apple Board as Streaming War Heats Up

On the heels of Apple’s launch and pricing announcement about its new streaming service, the tech giant has announced that Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger has stepped down from its board.

In a Sept. 13 SEC Filing, Apple disclosed that Iger resigned Sept. 10.

Apple Sept. 10 announced its service Apple TV+ would bow Nov. 1 — a little over a week before the launch of Disney’s streaming service Disney+ Nov. 12 — and at $4.99 — undercutting Disney+’s $6.99 a month regular price (although special offers put the cost under $4 a month).

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Disney+ Sets Key International Launch Dates, Pricing

The Walt Disney Co. on Aug. 19 said its much-ballyhooed new subscription streaming service, Disney+, will launch in Canada and the Netherlands on Nov. 12, the same day it launches in the United States.

The international rollout continues a week later with a push into Australia and New Zealand.

Initial pricing is similar to the United States, where the service will bow at what some analysts call a “Netflix-killing” low price of $6.99 a month.

In Canada, monthly subscriptions will cost CAD$8.99 per month or CAD $89.99 per year. In the Netherlands, subscriptions are 6.99 euros per month, or 69.99 euros per year.

In Australia, Disney+ will cost AUD$8.99 per month or AUD$89.99 per year and in New Zealand, the subscription price will be NZD$9.99 for a month and $99.99 for a year.

The Walt Disney Co. said more international territories will be announced on later dates, and that it expects to stream content through Disney+ in most major global markets within two years.

Disney also announced it has struck global agreements with most major platforms to distribute the Disney+ app across partner mobile and connected TV devices.

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At launch, consumers will be able to subscribe to Disney+ directly or via  in-app purchase and start streaming from the following partner platforms and devices (dependent on country):

  • Apple (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV, and fully integrated with the Apple TV app; customers can subscribe to Disney+ via in-app purchase);
  • Google (Android phones, Android TV devices, Google Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices);
  • Microsoft (Xbox One);
  • Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment (PlayStation 4 and all Android-based Sony TVs); and
  • Roku (Roku streaming players and Roku TV models).

Last week, Disney+ said it has tapped former Luke Bradley-Jones, a former Sky executive, as SVP, Direct to Consumer, and general manager of Disney+ for Europe and Africa, starting in 2020.

Also last week, Disney struck a new distribution deal with cable giant Charter Communications that “contemplates Charter’s future distribution of Disney’s streaming services, including Hulu, ESPN+ and the soon-to-be-launched Disney+,” according to a press release issued by Charter.

Disney+ is targeting 60 million to 90 million subs globally by 2024.