Even as Disney prepares to launch a pair of streaming services to deliver sports and entertainment directly to consumers, the studio is unlikely to indulge in Netflix-like collapsing of release windows — at least when it comes to blockbuster movies.
Walt Disney Co. Chief Strategy Officer Kevin Mayer said the studio’s event films (like the forthcoming Black Panther movie) are designed to be experienced in theaters. This focus on cinematic blockbusters has paid off handsomely for the Burbank studio, which in 2017 saw its global box office cross the $5 billion threshold for the third year in a row.
“The model serves us well,” said Mayer in an interview tonight at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach. “I’m not sure there’s an urgent need to disrupt it.”
Mayer talked extensively about Disney’s planned streaming services, and how the entertainment giant continues to wrestle with aligning the proper mix of new and library content. It weighed whether Marvel or Star Wars content sits comfortably in a family-friendly, Disney-branded service that contains Pixar movies and older Disney Channel shows.
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“We have Marvel and Star Wars in our theme parks and on our Disney Channel,” said Mayer. “We don’t think there’s brand dissonance.”
With ESPN Plus, the sports streaming service due to launch this spring, Mayer said Disney will offer thousands of events the viewer can’t watch elsewhere — smaller college games, major tennis tournaments other than the French Open, major league soccer matches outside of market. It’s an ancillary offering designed to entice passionate sports fans without cannibalizing ESPN’s core TV business.
“We’re well served by the pay TV ecosystem,” Mayer said. “Tens of millions of consumers are well served by it. But we also want to offer consumers the options to buy more, and set us up for the future.”
Mayer said Disney’s new streaming services aren’t envisioned as Netflix killers — even though the studio will stop distributing will newly released Disney, Marvel and Pixar films on the rival service in 2019. That decision, Mayer said, was to enhance Disney’s streaming service with movies when they’re first available for home viewing.
“I personally like Netflix. They’ve got a great product. They do exceedingly well in the marketplace,” said Mayer. “What we’re doing, we’re not trying to hurt or kill Netflix.”
Mayer, who sits on Hulu’s board of directors, offered a less expansive comprehensive view of the service’s future, other than saying, “we’re very much in support of growing Hulu. It’s’ going to be a big, profitable service.”
Disney would acquire a 60% stake in Hulu if Disney wins regulatory approval for its proposed $52.4 billion acquisition of the majority of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets.
Mayer has advised Disney CEO Bob Iger on the ambitious Fox deal, and the company’s pivotal acquisitions of Pixar Animation, Marvel Entertainment, and Lucasfilm.
Recode’s Peter Kafka, a reporter known for his tough on-stage interviews, did not delve into the pending deal, instead asking Mayer to explain how he thinks through a possible acquisition.
“How will it fit in our ecosystem? How will it enhance our brands?” asked Mayer. “Marvel and Star Wars down dow the same path — Bob and I collaborated on all that stuff. We were looking for IP.”
The deal will likely define the legacy of Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger and mark an inflection point for 86-year-old mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Mayer was not asked about recent reports that Comcast is considering renewing its bid for Fox, which rejected a more lucrative offer from the cable giant in favor of Disney.
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