At this week’s investor day, Disney leaned all the way into being a streaming company, yes. In and of itself, that’s a notable development since the media conglomerate appears willing to back up such a move with both the quantity and quality of content it requires, while also not kneecapping its linear TV business.
That much was obvious to anyone that tuned in. But what may have flown under the radar as well, amid the slew of announcements for upcoming shows and movies, was how it’s organizing that content moving forward.
Within the U.S., Disney announced that ESPN+ content would now be available within the Hulu app. ESPN+ is the smallest of the company’s streaming properties and has primarily served as a place to house games that don’t fit on traditional TV. But as ESPN explained during its portion of the investor day, it appears they’ll be leaning a bit more heavily into non-game content. Making those shows and specials easily findable on Hulu creates more value for ESPN+ and consumers alike.
Chances are many subscribers to Disney’s streaming bundle happily pay the $12.99 ($13.99 come March) per month for Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ as it is, but may not utilize all three apps frequently since they’re all in different places. For some, they may not even know what’s on ESPN+, but are fine paying for it because of the bundle. This at least opens up that world a bit and allows them to see the value within that app as well, sports fan or not.
In various markets outside of the U.S., Star programming is not just being promoted to consumers — it’s going to be confronting them directly within the Disney+ app. Age settings will allow certain content to be gated so as not to disrupt the cultivated and family-environment Disney desires on its flagship app. But in these markets, Disney+ does sort of become a one-stop shop for all Disney-related content since Star is analogous to Hulu for the time being.
TBD if that continues once Hulu’s sale is complete in 2024, or if everything’s folded under just one of those two banners; Star or Hulu at that point. Despite the purposeful business reasons that keep Hulu from growing too much stateside, this Disney+ integration of Star (coupled with the Hulu integration of ESPN+) very much appears to be a trial balloon for how Disney would package all of its content going forward in one easy-to-navigate app.
In effect, Disney “Plus” would just become THE place to find any and all Disney-owned content, from Hulu to FX and other former Fox properties, Disney/Marvel/Star Wars/Nat Geo/Pixar, and maybe even live sports one day via the ESPN family of networks. “Plus” no more, the move could even warrant a name-change if they went that route… to just “Disney.”
Where things get even more interesting is whether or such an all-in-one Disney app could basically transform itself into an MVPD. Hulu’s already one of the biggest MVPDs in the country as it is, and knows how to deliver content from various channels alongside on-demand streaming capabilities within the same interface. Should Disney decide to fold Hulu/Star and ESPN+, plus Hulu’s live TV subscription business into an expanded Disney+/Big DISNEY app, it potentially makes itself not only the dominant content producer in the U.S., but also its largest distributor (by far) — and an MVPD that more directly competes with the businesses of Comcast, AT&T, Charter, Dish, Verizon and more. Same goes for most international markets, too.
Even without the live TV component of Hulu’s business, there’s potentially enough there with Hulu/Star, Disney+ and ESPN+ to be an MVPD without the live TV aspects. That alone could be enticing add at the right price for consumers looking to cut down on the amount of separate streaming subscriptions they’re shelling out for — especially if that included aspects of ABC and ESPN TV programming with it.
In that scenario, Disney’s potentially on an island all its own… possessing enough content to keep consumers hooked for years, with the money to continually make more around both established and new IP. It’s sort of Netflix or Amazon but with fewer duds, just as much (probably more) watch time and a better strategy to make additional money off of that content via theme parks, toys, videos games and other merchandising opportunities.
To borrow from Disney’s own properties, it’s a Death Star… or an infinity gauntlet, if you’d prefer.
Disney’s far from done sorting things out, and how upcoming planned movie releases perform at the box office dictates a lot of timing, too. But after Thursday’s four-hour presentation, it’s pretty clear where Disney’s eventually headed, and how that positions them in a way that leaves little (serious) competition left for controlling consumer attention and dollars.