A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
In the first ten days of December, Discovery unveiled its streaming service; Warner Bros. said that its entire 2021 slate of films will be released on HBO Max and in theaters at the same time; and Disney announced 100 new projects, with most of them heading straight to streaming services.
Three years from now, we’ll probably still be talking about the content and the consequences.
The resistance to the streaming transformation is significant, but the strategic imperatives of major media companies are more serious. Thus, observers were blown away by the sheer amount of content announcements at Disney’s investor day on Thursday, in much the same way they were stunned by WarnerMedia’s move last week.
“The fact is, we’re only getting started,” Disney’s exec chairman Bob Iger said with a smile at the end of the Disney presentation.
Which raises a question: If you have any connection to the media business, what will your streaming strategy be in a year or three from now? I say three years because Disney is already plotting what it will be releasing for the 2023 holiday season…
During the Disney investor event, digital media guru Matthew Ball tweeted that “this feels like the true unveiling of Disney+ versus April 2019, tbh” (to be honest).
And Ball told me afterward, “if you’re a competitor, this is earth-shaking.”
That’s because Disney CEO Bob Chapek basically depicted everything up until now as a beta launch. Chapek said “Disney+ has exceeded our wildest expectations” and quadrupled down on the streaming service on Thursday…
Disney’s streaming kingdom
Frank Pallotta writes: “According to the company, Disney+ now has 86 million subscribers. So it is raising its projections by leaps and bounds. Disney now projects that the service will have 230 million to 260 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024. That’s a huge jump from its initial projections last year of 60 million to 90 million.”
>> More: The service’s monthly fee in the US will be going up by $1 in March to $7.99…
Obi-Wan, She-Hulk and Pinocchio
Frank Pallotta writes: “Disney spent the better part of four hours announcing fresh content from its biggest brands. There were new ‘Star Wars’ Disney+ series like a ‘Mandalorian’ spinoff starring the character Ahsoka Tano; a live-action ‘Pinocchio’ starring Tom Hanks; and a slew of Marvel series. The company also hedged its bets with its theatrical releases, saying that Disney Animation’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is heading to Disney+ while Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ is still heading to theaters in May.”
>> WaPo’s Steven Zeitchik tweeted: “Disney+’s guiding philosophy seems to be ‘let’s take every single property in our catalog and make a prequel, sequel, reboot, new take, feature, limited series, hybrid CG-live-action sci-fi musical comedy melodrama and then let’s see who’s winning the streaming wars, Netflix.’”
Some of the highlights
Unless I stay up until 2am ET, there is no way to encapsulate all the programming news. Let me just flag SIX highlights…
– “Disney unveiled a blitz of new ‘Star Wars’ projects,” NYT’s Brooks Barnes wrote, “including 10 television shows – two of which will be ‘Mandalorian’ spinoffs, another that will follow C-3PO and R2-D2 – and a new theatrical film, ‘Rogue Squadron,’ directed by Patty Jenkins.” Jenkins will be “the first female filmmaker in the 43-year history of the ‘Star Wars’ movie franchise…”
– Oliver Darcy is particularly jazzed about this “Star Wars” news: “Hayden Christensen returns as Darth Vader, joining Ewan McGregor in ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi…’”
– Via Sandra Gonzalez’s story: “Members of the Kardashian/Jenner brood will be working with Hulu as part of a multiyear deal.” Drudge’s framing: “Kardashians join Mickey…”
– ABC News also received some shoutouts, with Kelly Campbell saying that “during this election season, nearly four million of Hulu’s SVOD subscribers engaged with election coverage through ABC News Live,” and “we plan to expand our partnership with ABC News to include new original content that will live exclusively on Hulu…”
Recode’s Peter Kafka noted that Disney’s strategy differs from Warner’s, since Disney’s BIGGEST movies will still run exclusively in theaters first. “Black Widow” is due out on May 7, and “a complicated Covid vaccine rollout might still underway by then,” he wrote. “Will you be ready to hang out, indoors, with a lot of strangers for a couple hours at that point? If Disney wanted to hedge its bets, it could have pushed the release date further back, or simply not assigned one at all. Instead, it wants to reaffirm its commitment to movies in theaters.” However, he said, Disney also “wants it both ways,” and that’s why it promoted Disney+ content for hours and hours.
>> Bottom line: The pandemic upends every calculation. I mean, one could argue that WarnerMedia (CNN’s parent) is reaffirming its commitment to theaters by letting all of its 2021 films play on big screens…
“Focus on the customer”
I haven’t listened to a podcast episode this lively in… weeks? No, in months. Kara Swisher’s conversation with WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar is well worth a listen or read. While defending the Warner Bros. decision and reacting to the angry filmmakers and addressing the theater owners, the word “customer” came up 34 times. The word “consumer” another 10 times. Here are a few examples:
– “Ultimately, it’s the customer that is going to tell us which way this should go.”
– “Life is hard enough. Why don’t we make things as simple as possible for customers?”
– “If everybody just takes a breath and thinks about the customer, it’s not so complicated. It really isn’t. If we can just let everything else fall to the wayside, focus on the customer, we’re going to be sitting on a very big future.”
The Hollywood uproar
Brian Lowry writes: “If the clients aren’t happy, their agents aren’t happy – especially if they’re afraid that’s going to cost them money. Deadline’s Mike Fleming has the details on CAA’s expressed concerns about HBO Max – starting with the assertion that they were ‘blindsided’ by last week’s announcement – and boiling down to this sentence in a letter to Kilar: ‘The bottom line is that you are trying to take advantage of our clients to benefit your company. Neither we nor our clients will stand for it.’ Here’s the letter…”
>> CNBC’s Alex Sherman writes: “WarnerMedia will likely be the guinea pig for the media industry… In that sense, Kilar is doing the dirty work for his peers…”
>> Joe Adalian’s look at the Warner decision: “If Peak TV defined the first decade of streaming, the 2020s may well be known as the era of Big Movies on TV…” (Vulture)