Disney Prepares to Unveil Its Streaming Service

anastasios pallis

BURBANK, Calif. — The Walt Disney Company has been talking about plans to start a Netflix-style streaming service for two years. On Thursday comes the big reveal.

D-Day, as some in Hollywood are calling it.

In a lavish presentation on the Disney lot starting at 2 p.m. Pacific time, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, is expected to offer long-awaited details about his counterattack on the tech giants that have moved into the entertainment business. The linchpin is Disney Plus, a new subscription video service dedicated to movies and shows from Disney, Pixar, the “Star Wars” franchise, National Geographic and Marvel.

When will it arrive? What will Disney charge for access? How much will Disney spend on original programming? What precise menu of shows and films will be available? How many subscribers does Disney expect to attract? What will the Disney Plus interface look like?

The answers to those questions and others will come during the event, which is scheduled to stretch three and a half hours and feature presenters like Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, and Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios. It will take place inside Soundstage 2, home to the original “Mickey Mouse Club” in 1955.

The moment could amount to a turning point in the streaming wars. For the first time, a traditional media company may demonstrate the firepower needed to compete with Silicon Valley in the fast-growing realm of online video.

But Disney’s plans could just as easily fail to impress, along the lines of what happened to Apple last month when it staged a similar event focused on its streaming ambitions. Apple trotted out celebrities but offered few specifics — nothing on pricing, no launch date, barely any footage.

Unlike Apple, Disney is expected to unveil substantial footage from original shows that are headed to Disney Plus. One live-action series is called “The Mandalorian.” Set in the “Star Wars” universe and created by Jon Favreau, the show cost an estimated $100 million for 10 episodes, on a par with earlier seasons of HBO’s extravagant “Game of Thrones.”

Disney will stream the event live on its corporate website. While the target audience is Wall Street — analysts were invited to attend in person — the presentation is also intended to appeal to potential Disney Plus subscribers. Disney is also expected to discuss its broader streaming business, which includes Hulu, ESPN Plus and Hotstar in India.

Most analysts have sky-high expectations for Disney Plus, which the company styles as Disney+.

“Our confidence in the resilient success of Disney+ comes from the company’s unmatched brand recognition, extensive premium content and unparalleled ecosystem to market the service,” Alexia Quadrani, an analyst at J.P. Morgan, wrote in a recent report. Bank of Montreal and Cowen and Company both upgraded Disney’s stock ahead of Thursday’s presentation.

“We expect Disney+ to see very fast early adoption,” Doug Creutz, an analyst at Cowen, wrote in a report on Tuesday that also highlighted strength at Disney’s theme parks and coming movies like a live-action “Lion King.”

Mr. Iger has spent years laying the groundwork for Disney Plus. In 2015, as Netflix grew at a blistering rate, Disney began experimenting overseas with an app called DisneyLife. Rolled out in Britain, DisneyLife offered old movies and television series, children’s e-books, games and music. Without new movies, or at least exclusive content, interest was limited.

In 2016 Mr. Iger started talking more openly about needing to develop a streaming business — a risky proposition for a company with vast traditional television holdings. Disney paid $1 billion for a 33 percent stake in BamTech, a streaming services company, eventually paying $1.58 billion more for majority control.

Mr. Iger announced in summer 2017 that Disney would introduce its own Netflix-style service and stop selling movie rerun rights to Netflix, forgoing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. In 2018 came Disney’s $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox assets, including National Geographic and the Fox movie studio. Mr. Iger positioned the acquisition as supercharging Disney’s move into streaming.

Michael Nathanson, a media analyst at MoffettNathanson, estimated in a report on Tuesday that Disney Plus could lose as much as $1.8 billion annually through 2023, with programming as one major expense. Add in losses from Hulu and ESPN Plus and Mr. Nathanson expects Disney’s streaming division to lose roughly $3.8 billion this year and next.

At least nine new movies are in production or advanced development for Disney Plus, with budgets ranging from $20 million to $60 million. Disney is remaking two musicals from its animation library as live-action films: “Lady and the Tramp” (1955) and “The Sword in the Stone” (1963). Other new films include “Togo,” a period adventure about a sled dog, and “Noelle,” starring Anna Kendrick as Santa’s daughter.

Marvel Studios is working on three Disney Plus shows. One will focus on Loki from the “Avengers” movies, with Tom Hiddleston reprising the role. Another “Avengers” star, Elizabeth Olsen, will reprise her Scarlet Witch character in a second series. A third show will be associated with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” with Anthony Mackie returning as the Falcon.

Also in the works are episodic spinoffs of Disney franchises like “High School Musical” and “Monsters, Inc.” Additionally, Disney is working on 10 unscripted shows, including a Disney-themed cooking competition, “Be Our Chef,” and a series called “Encore!” that reunites the casts of high school musicals long after graduation and asks them to recreate their performance.

Roughly 400 films from Disney’s library and at least 5,000 episodes of old Disney-branded television shows like “Hannah Montana” and “Lizzie McGuire” will anchor Disney Plus.

This article is from NYT – go to source

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