Disney leans into streaming, brings expanded family of brands together during upfronts

Disney adds former Fox assets FX and Nat Geo to its upfront pitch

Armed with an expanded roster of brands, Disney presented a unified pitch during its upfront event.

Executives from ABC, ESPN, Freeform, FX Networks and National Geographic all shared a stage on Tuesday. Disney acquired the latter two companies as part of its $71.3bn acquisition of 21st Century Fox in March.

Streaming, and the direct relationship with consumers it fosters, underscored Disney’s upfront press briefing and subsequent presentation.

Kevin Mayer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international, kicked off the presentation by showing off Disney’s new collection of ad-supported platforms, including now wholly controlled Hulu.

Tuesday morning, Disney announced it has full operational control of Hulu after coming to terms with Comcast. This is one more piece of what will become a robust streaming offering: Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+, which will launch in November.

Disney will have to manage an array of disparate content, and match each network’s tone with the right streaming service.

FX Networks chairman John Landgraf said the FX brand integrates best into Hulu, as the network’s darker, more off-beat tone was “never really adjacent” to Disney’s family-friendly brand.

“This transaction has given us a new lease on life,” Landgraf said of the Disney acquisition, adding that it’s challenging for standalone streaming brands to scale up without the backing of a larger parent company.

ESPN+, the sports network’s direct-to-consumer streaming service, houses a catalog of live programming, sporting events and original content.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice-president of programming and scheduling, said the service allowed ESPN to expand its rights deals beyond what it could air on a linear schedule. For example, ESPN recently bought Italian Serie A soccer league broadcast rights, giving ESPN+ 340 games.

Magnus added that this DTC offering gives ESPN a better glimpse into its customer base and allows the company to make more data-informed decisions about it’s programming.

At the presentation, even Robin Roberts ABC’s Good Morning America said connecting one-to-one with consumers is vital.

ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke said the 2019-2020 season is the broadcaster’s “most stable schedule in more than a decade.” Burke added that the broadcaster is focused on prioritizing stability and “launching shows in a way our audience will know we are committed to them.”

This looks to be a needed move, as Nielsen live-plus-same-day numbers for viewers ages 18-49 is the lowest among its competitors Fox, NBC and CBS.

Along with presenting a unified pitch of its new properties, Disney streamlined its media planning and buying process by moving 20th Century Fox assets to OMD.

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