Wednesday, May 15, 2019

If I Were Disney CEO Part 39 - Streaming

"If consumers want sports, they can subscribe to ESPN+.  If they want adult content, they can subscribe to Hulu, and if they want family, there's Disney+."
Bob Iger on streaming options

"We're designing a product that we want to be accessible to as many consumers as possible.  We just feel that Disney is loved by so many millions and millions of people around the world."
on streaming as a global offering

"What we are putting forward is an aggressive strategy.  We feel that if we're going to implement it, we've got to be very, very serious and be all in on it."
on Disney+ strategy

"We both probably share a bullish outlook on Hulu, but we can't do it on our own."
on Hulu

Disney is about to get into streaming in a big way.  On April 12, 2018, Disney launched its first streaming service, ESPN+ its direct streaming service for original ESPN programming and documentaries, as well as sports rights beyond the NFL, NBA, and MLB.  By February 2019, the service already had 2 million subscribers.

In its acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney increased its ownership in Hulu, from 30% to 60%, making it a controlling majority owner.  Hulu started as a collaboration between major networks to provide a streaming source for day after viewing of broadcast programs and classic libraries in an effort to combat piracy on YouTube and other sources.  Since then, Hulu has morphed into a subscription service, offering live TV options, premium subscriptions access like Showtime, and original programming.  The original programming in particular has become acclaimed with shows like Man in the High Castle and The Handmaid's Tale As of May 14, 2019, Disney worked out a deal with Comcast to take full control of Hulu.  This will be a major part of Disney's streaming offerings.

Disney+ is Disney's own streaming service to be rolled out later this year.  It will be Disney's family offering focusing on the Disney animated and live action libraries, the Pixar library, Lucasfilm, Marvel, Muppets, the 20th Century Fox family films, and National Geographic.  Disney is being aggressive with their streaming package with a $6.99 a month subscription, a potential for savings with bundling Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+, and a lot of high quality original programming coming its way.  Disney is essentially viewing Disney+  as just another venue for its programming to go.  The company can just look at any particular project and decide is this theatrical, television, or streaming for its initial release, knowing it will end up in streaming eventually.

Because this will be an important part of Disney's offerings going forward, I wanted to put forward a few recommendations on this particular division.  I'll be focusing on Hulu and Disney+, as ESPN+ was touched on in the ESPN entry.

Primary Goals for this Division:
  • Broadcast feeds streaming, which feeds broadcast - This is probably the most important component of success for the division.  The connectivity between studios, broadcast, and streaming will be key, or no one platform will be used to its fullest.  Just as theatrical, home entertainment, premium cable, cable, and broadcast used to represent stratified options for monetization of film assets, a similar strategy could be used to maximize the viewership and full monetization of film and television programming.  Could a season premier on Disney+ and then be aired weekly on ABC six months later?  Maybe a shorter gap, perhaps a longer one?  I've repeated this with every studio in television, but this will be of vital importance to master.
  • Reach deep into the library -Disney and its film and television studios have extensive libraries that can be accessed to find programming to revive.  And with Disney+ and Hulu available, there are places for everything in those libraries.  For the services to feel worth their cost, the history of these networks and the libraries Disney owns should not be ignored.
  • Open the Vault - Disney has been promoting Disney+ as including the entire Disney library.  One question in this regard has been Song of the South, Disney's movie about the Uncle Remus stories set in the Reconstruction era south, which has been in the vault since 1986.  Disney has indicated Song of the South will not be part of the Disney+ offering and rumors have even indicated scenes like the Jim Crow "When I See An Elephant Fly" segment from Dumbo will not be a part of Disney+.    This seems like a missed opportunity.  I would recommend a From the Vault segment where "problematic" material could be contextualized.  This is how the materials were presented on the Disney Treasures DVD line and very similar to the Treasures from the Disney Vault segments on TCM.  Leonard Maltin could explain the material before the short or movie and provide context for the time, the jokes, the actors playing the parts or providing the voices, and in general present the material in a way that made it more clinical.  It would preserve the material for history and allow it to be viewed and critiqued, instead of pretending like it did not happen.  This would be a great section for Disney+ or even Hulu if Disney decided it was too "adult" for Disney+.
  • Don't be afraid of some duplication between services - While the goal should be to entice people to have both or all streaming services through bundling packages, a little overlap in the catalogs should be embraced.  For example, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a Hulu staple after airing on ABC.  It should also definitely be a part of the Marvel Hub on Disney+.  Likewise, could the Cloak & Dagger and Runaways original programming on Hulu move to Disney+ Marvel section after an exclusive period, or even premier on both?  Or will this mean an end to Marvel content on Hulu?
  • Continue to utilize key talent in streaming - Disney+'s initial line up presents a lot of impressive talent.  There are four Marvel series that will premier on Disney+ using the talent from the movies.  Likewise, the Lucasfilm section will be starting with two series utilizing talent from the Star Wars movies, continuing that universe.  It even extends behind the camera as well.  Jon Faverau, who played an instrumental role in the early Marvel Universe films will is directing the initial Star Wars series for Disney+, The Mandalorian.  Particularly for these large universes, the streaming programming should be viewed as an extension of the films and part of the negotiation process.
  • Let the format fit the story, and not the other way around - With the streaming platform, there are no restrictions on length of an individual offering, number of episodes, etc.  The length of the original programming for Disney+ and Hulu should be tailored to the story.  I think this is understood, as the Marvel programs are starting with 6 episode arcs, but it should be reiterated.
  • Don't go too edgy on Hulu just because it is "adult" - While Hulu will be the place for the adult and mature content in the Disney libraries, and it's original programming can be adult, there should never be gratuitous content.  There is the famous story of the HBO executive on Game of Thrones who existed simply to give notes to please the perv audience.  That is the exact opposite of a voice that should be listened to.  Just because you can is never a good motto for storytelling.  Ground the story first and focus on that.  If program should be on Hulu because it will only appeal to adults, but does not include any objectionable content, that's fine.  There is no need to add it.  Likewise, if a program uses language and violence and sex to tell its story, then it should be on Hulu.  Just don't add it where it's not needed.
  • Experiment - The greatest thing Disney can do with both platforms is experiment.  This is the place to try new things creatively.  To try out new talent.  To take a chance on oddball content.  Both platforms will need lots of programming to keep people subscribing. And with a built in subscriber base, there is a guaranteed revenue stream to help offset costs.   Disney just needs to be willing to try bold new things here.
I'm looking forward to seeing what the future brings for Hulu under Disney's leadership and I'm very excited to see Disney+ when it is finally rolled out later this year.  This division will be one of the ones to watch in the years to come, as it has the potential to change both film and television in ways we could not imagine now.

Next up in the series - jumping to a new division - Disney Theatrical Group

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