Bob Iger Says Disney Is “Neutral” About Channels Appearing Online Vs Pay TV

Bob Iger
Associated Press

Streaming video and skinny bundles were on analysts’ minds today as they peppered Disney CEO Bob Iger with questions about his plans in a conference call to discuss June quarter earnings.

The CEO was ready, kicking things off with an announcement that AT&T’s upcoming DirecTV Now streaming service will carry several Disney channels including ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, Freeform, Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney Junior.

The appearance of company channels on the live streaming service, along with one planned by Hulu — co-owned by Disney, Comcast, Fox, and Time Warner — “is quite meaningful,” Iger says. It shows that “we’re quite neutral about shifting from an traditional [pay TV] consumer to an over-the-top [streaming] consumer.”

The affiliate fee arrangements for Disney are similar. In addition, they “will provide great user interface and functionality” that mean “the customer is going to be more engaged and is likely to consume at higher levels which can only be good for us.”

The CEO was less enthusiastic about a new skinny bundle being offered by Dish Network, called The Flex, that offers ESPN as an extra-pay add-on — not in the core package.

“As we look at the product they’re offering, we really don’t believe it has a great future because it’s lacking some of the most attractive channels that are out there,” he says. “You can slice and dice some of these channels to create packages. But if you don’t have some of the best ones, it’s pretty hard to see significant adoption of the service.”

The planned ESPN-branded subscription streaming service, being developed with Major League Baseball’s BAMTech technology platform, should be up by year end. No decision has been made yet about how much it will cost, and how quickly it will be available abroad.

It will include rights BAMTech has to baseball and hockey games as well as ESPN’s rights to sports including college football and basketball, rugby, and tennis.

These are rights “ESPN has already licensed that are not appearing on the [TV] channels,” Iger says. As a result, the service will launch “without adding any additional cost to purchase new rights.”

Disney isn’t ignoring its longtime allies: cable and satellite companies. It has new deals with DirecTV and Comcast giving them in-season stacking rights to all episodes of the company’s shows. “That’s obviously designed to strengthen the traditional [pay TV] package.”

On other matters, the CEO says that Orlando’s Disney World has “not seen an impact” from reports of the Zika virus being spread by mosquitoes in Florida. There hasn’t been a shift in the number of international vs domestic visitors.

He also noted that even with the drop in the value of the British pound following the UK Brexit vote to leave the European Union visits from there have been “fairly strong…you’d expect otherwise.”

At the new Shanghai Disney Resort “the product is performing really well,” Iger says, with guests staying two hours longer than expected.

He offered little insight into the Disney board’s search for his successor. He’s “confident it will result in a good decision,” he says.

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