• Inside the Stream Podcast: Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer Future Seems Murky

    Disney reported its fiscal 2023 first quarter this week, the first since Bob Iger returned to the CEO role. While other parts of the business are doing reasonably well, for Direct-to-Consumer, which includes Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, subscriber gains were weak and ARPU was down. Iger also shared that Disney will cut its content spending by $3 billion this year. For Colin and me, all of that makes Disney’s DTC future seem murky.

    Disney also plans to lay off 7,000 employees and take a $5.5 billion charge, while also stating it intends to restore its dividend by the end of the year - all a big victory for Wall Street. The layoff continues a disturbing pattern by most large tech and media companies (a topic about which I do a mini-rant during the podcast, sorry) which has put CEOs' lack of accountability on full display and smashed any delusions anyone might have had about any sort of an employer-employee "social contract" still existing (again sorry, I digress)

    The most meaningful quote from Disney’s earnings call on late Wednesday was when Iger said “…the streaming business, which I believe is the future and has been growing, is not delivering basically the kind of profitability or bottom-line results that the linear business delivered for us over a few decades.”

    Nor will it ever.

    As Colin and I discuss this week (and as we’ve discussed ad nauseam in the past), the linear business model was based on the pay-TV multichannel bundle, which was the very definition of artificial economics. In the bundle, lots and lots of channels were delivered for a single price. The bundle’s monthly price steadily increased over the years as broadcast and cable TV networks raised their carriage fees paid by pay-TV operators.

    The “elephant in the room” was that most pay-TV subscribers watched only a handful of TV networks, and yet paid for ALL of them. By far the biggest beneficiaries of pay-TV’s artificial economics were sports networks, with ESPN at the very top of the list. I first wrote about the “sports tax” 12 years ago in “Not a Sports Fan? Then You're Getting Sacked For At Least $2 Billion Per Year.” Things have only gotten worse for non-sports fans since. However, with streaming’s rise, the elephant is now fully visible, and has driven cord-cutting to record levels.

    And just as the Internet has ruthlessly rationalized the economics of practically every other industry, it is now doing the same to the TV industry. The Internet allows zero room for artificial economics and anyone who violates this precept is an ostrich with their heads fully underground. Iger understands this, and his quote should fairly be seen as a signal to Wall Street that Disney is extremely unlikely to ever achieve historical financial performance in its TV businesses.

    As if all of that weren’t enough, Iger then went on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” yesterday and told David Faber that “Everything is on the table…" with respect to Hulu’s eventual ownership resolution (reminder, Disney has a deal in which Comcast can force Disney to buy its 30% stake for a set minimum price that would translate into around $9 billion).

    Iger’s comments basically turned Hulu into a hot potato. Really dedicated VideoNuze readers will recall that almost 5 years ago, in March, 2018 I wrote “Why Comcast Should Take Control of Hulu.” Then, subsequent to Comcast’s Peacock reveal in January, 2020, I followed up with “Quick Math Shows Comcast Missed Out On Almost $6 Billion in Revenue By Not Buying the Rest of Hulu.”

    Instead, Comcast/NBCU launched Peacock and will have lost over $5.5 billion on it just between 2022-2023. If Comcast does come back in and buy Disney’s 70% stake in Hulu it will rank as the #1 irony in all the years I’ve been in the industry.

    And it would make Disney’s DTC future even murkier still.

    Listen to the podcast to learn more (34 minutes, 46 seconds)

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