Films from Marvel and Star Wars that now go to Netflix will move to Disney’s planned ad-free direct-to-consumer streaming service, CEO Bob Iger said today at an investor gathering. “We’re going to launch big, and we’re going to launch hot” by late 2019, he told the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference.
Iger adds that it’s “possible” that it will launch in some overseas markets “earlier than we launch in the United States due to windowing opportunities that we have on the motion picture side.”
There’ll be four or five original Disney-branded films made exclusively for the online service, as well as four-to-five original Disney-branded TV series. The app will also have Disney’s film library of nearly 500 films, and 7,000 episodes from the TV library. The CEO expects to have “thousands” of shorts and “will produce more original short-form content” for it.
No word yet on pricing or the amount of Disney’s investment, although Iger says “we intend to get more specific about that in the months ahead.”
The fate of the Marvel and Star Wars films was the main question left hanging early last month when Iger announced his plan to offer direct-to-consumer services: an ad-free one for Disney and Pixar productions, and one with ads for ESPN.
The planned Disney app “will have the entire output of the studio — animation, live action and Disney including Pixar, Star Wars and all of the Marvel films,” Iger says.
The ESPN offering will be available this spring with 10,000 sporting events not on the linear channel. That will include Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, soccer, tennis, “and a lot of college sports.” Disney will begin to discuss pricing in early 2018.
Over time “this will be a sports marketplace platform” similar to iTunes, he says. Users will be able to “buy almost on an a la carte basis a sporting event, a season, a league, maybe a conference…It won’t necessarily be a one-size-fits all” although it may launch as a single offering.
“The goal eventually is to create something that the sports fan can use to design what their sports media experience will be,” he says.
Wall Street was unimpressed, especially after Iger said that this year’s earnings are likely to be “roughly in line” with last year — below expectations. Disney shares are down 3.2%.
Speaking of the theatrical movie business, the Disney chief says “my mantra for films is: Make them big and make them great.”
Industry box office sales have been soft recently because “it was a quiet end of summer, and then some…It’s been slim pickings the last three weeks, four weeks.”
Still, he says that the film business is challenged because “there’s so much more competition for people’s time,” including from streaming services led by Netflix and Amazon.
As a result, “the moviegoing experience is less forgiving” — especially for films with small to mid-sized budgets. “There’s a lot of pressure on them to rise above the din…It’s very, very hard.”
The planned online platform will become the exclusive venue for Disney’s “lower budget films,” he says.
Iger also believes that premium video on demand “will happen, but not for us” as other studios look to “better monetize their investment in films.”
Disney plans a 30-minute short related to Frozen that it will pair in theaters for a few weeks with Pixar’s Coco, due November 22.
“The Frozen franchise is still mammoth, but substantially down from when we released the film and a year hence,” he says. “So this may help that.”
The CEO says that Disney has felt “some impact” from Hurricane Irma: “We’ve seen [theme park] cancellations in Orlando and we’ve also had to cancel three cruise itineraries and shorten a couple of others.”
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