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Disney’s Big Streaming Future… without Netflix

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The media landscape is ever-changing, and when it comes to the big news of the day, the complicated relationships between some entertainment powerhouses just became even more tricky. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that I’ve cashed checks from both Netflix and Disney as an independent contractor over the years, and will continue to do so as often as I can. They’re two of my favorite companies overall, and it’s been rumored off-and-on for years that Disney would eventually make a play for Netflix (and maybe they still will down the line), but for now they’re letting their new release streaming distribution contract with Netflix run out, opting to create their own “Disney-branded direct-to-consumer streaming service” in 2019, preceded by an ESPN-branded “multi-sport streaming service” in 2018.  The move comes as they take majority ownership in BAMTech, a streaming technology leader in which Disney had already purchased a 33% stake in last summer. For the consumer, there’s gonna be a huge new player in the streaming mix.

In a statement issued by The Walt Disney Company, Disney CEO Robert Iger said: “The media landscape is increasingly defined by direct relationships between content creators and consumers, and our control of BAMTech’s full array of innovative technology will give us the power to forge those connections, along with the flexibility to quickly adapt to shifts in the market. This acquisition and the launch of our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the Company, one that takes advantage of the incredible opportunity that changing technology provides us to leverage the strength of our great brands.”

Those brands, of course, include Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, along with Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Studios live-action, plus all of the television interests. 

From the Official Announcement: “The new Disney-branded service will become the exclusive home in the U.S. for subscription-video-on-demand viewing of the newest live action and animated movies from Disney and Pixar, beginning with the 2019 theatrical slate, which includes Toy Story 4, the sequel to Frozen, and The Lion King from Disney live-action, along with other highly anticipated movies. Disney will also make a significant investment in an annual slate of original movies, TV shows, short-form content and other Disney-branded exclusives for the service. Additionally, the service will feature a vast collection of library content, including Disney and Pixar movies and Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD television programming.”

It’s not mentioned, but there’s certainly possibilities for ABC content to end up in the mix, and if ending the Netflix agreement for streaming of new releases in 2019 is any indication, I’d expect similar moves to be made with services like Hulu (who have some Disney Junior programming) and Amazon as well. As Disney begins to reel in their properties and bring them home, there are some other loose ends out there, such as the Marvel live-action offerings that are currently served-up as Netflix Original Series, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the forthcoming Defenders and The Punisher. 

As a consumer, I’ve already held-off on subscribing to a variety of services based on time and cost, and one does have to wonder when the combination of additional service fees will start to weigh on the cord-cutting movement. As the studios start to take more control over their own libraries, I could see that leading to more consolidation and acquisition down the line, as people will only sign up for so many different services.

And on the sports front, the ESPN service holds little interest for me personally, but Disney is promising that it “will offer a robust array of sports programming, featuring approximately 10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events a year, including Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, Grand Slam tennis, and college sports. Individual sport packages will also be available for purchase, including MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live.

The new service will be accessed through an enhanced version of the current ESPN app. In addition to the multi-sport service, the ESPN app will include the news, highlights, and scores that fans enjoy today. Consumers who are pay TV subscribers will also be able to access the ESPN television networks in the same app on an authenticated basis. For many sports fans, this app will become the premier digital destination for all their sports content.”

No word yet on what the cost for these will be, but I’ll be watching with great interest in the months ahead…

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