Bob Iger recently held a town meeting with Disney employees to let people know what to look for as far as the future. In a nutshell, he said that Disney would not be making any other major purchases, the company would keep the hiring freeze in place, and have a renewed focus on storytelling. He also squashed rumors that Disney would merge with Apple. So what should we expect to see from the company in the next two years, which is how long Iger is supposed to be in charge before a replacement is named? There will likely be moves made in the studio operations and the parks and merchandising. This article is going to concentrate though, on what could and should happen with the TV and streaming side of the business.
Smooth buyout of Comcast’s slice of Hulu
With Iger in charge, we can expect that while Disney may not look for another Marvel-level purchase in the near future the company will completely buy Comcast’s interest in Hulu. Both companies want to have the situation settled as Comcast is looking to put a major emphasis on Peacock. This has been in the works since Iger oversaw the purchase of 20th Century Fox. He will now be able to complete the plan he put into place. And it could not come at a better time than the next year or so, because an economic turndown may even lower the current value of Hulu and let Disney get it on the cheap.
A Disney FAST
If Disney needs to become more profitable what better way to bring in more money than to sell content it already owns to advertisers while enticing viewers to tune into it for free? Sure, you would not expect to see the company put all of its content out there for free, but Disney has decades of material that could be effectively monetized in its own Pluto TV-type app. Plus a fast could be used to encourage more people to sign up for its premium services. If Disney does not want to make any major purchases that could mean that the company is unlikely to make a move on an existing property like Fox did with Tubi or Comcast did with XUMO. Therefore it would probably come from an in-house team.
Copy Peacock with Hulu
Once Disney is totally in control of Hulu, maybe a solution for its FAST would be to build out a free version of Hulu. Peacock offers a commercial-supported free tier, a commercial-supported paid tier, and a commercial-free paid tier. The free and paid tiers differ as far as access to content. Couldn’t Hulu add a tier and do the same thing? Hulu already has a robust search capability, a live TV delivery system used in its “Hulu with Live TV” package and the rights to a giant library of Disney and Fox properties just at the start. Agreements would have to be hammered out with other distributors who are involved with Hulu but if Disney just started with what it already owns and partnered with some of the other free streaming partners that you find in other FASTS like Shout Factory, Tastemade and other vendors there could be a very attractive offering built. Paramount Inc has built a real gem with Pluto TV. I see no reason why Disney can’t do the same with “Hulu Free”
A Free Version of ESPN News
Disney spends a LOT of money on ESPN especially when it comes to the cost of maintaining contracts with college and pro sports leagues. How could it recoup some? By more effectively monetizing ESPN outside of the traditional footprint. Imagine an ESPN-branded streaming channel that felt more like a Disney-flavored CBS Sports HQ or the FOX Sports Channels found on Fasts like Pluto TV or Xumo (Soon to be Xumo Play). I think something that featured replays of its sports-centered discussion shows, highlights of older content, video game based competitions and eve a new studio show could be very popular. The free ESPN News app would of course also be built into the FAST.
All of these moves could be made without adding any new content to the plans for the next year or two outside of what has already been announced on the TV side. They allow Disney to expand the reach of their brands without stretching themselves too thin with multiple new initiatives. Will any of it happen? Obviously we won’t know until we know.