Disney's New Distribution Unit Is A Sign Of Things To Come

Walt Disney’s new distribution unit decision makes some tough decisions to dramatically shift top TV programming and movie content to streaming platforms from traditional businesses -- TV networks and movie theaters.

The question is one of quantity and timing. How much content will move from ABC Television Network and ESPN to Hulu and ESPN+? What about big summer theatrical movies from Marvel and Lucasfilm, to Disney+?

Some might have wondered if the launch of Disney’s Media and Entertainment Distribution group isn’t just a ho-hum “reorganization” announcement. The answer is no.

We already have seen a handful movies moved to streaming platforms. Some might say this is just a bunch of asterisks -- that people gathering in 100-seat arenas watching the same exact film content from crazy large screens will still exist in the future.



Kevin O’Leary, big time “Shark Tank” investor, said on CNBC this week, movie theaters will go the way of the VHS video tapes. That means to nothing, zero business.

As home TV screens get ever bigger with increasing quality -- as well as interactivity -- it may only be a matter of time. (The only qualities lacking are better popcorn and thick carpeting.)

Move your attention to content creators -- TV series’ executive producers and major theatrical movie directors. The new Disney distribution unit will make the hard-cold call in scheduling one’s film on, say, Freeform (the young-skewing Disney cable TV network) rather than AMC Theaters. The Disney creative overseers won’t be making -- or involved -- in that decision.

In a similar vein, Richard Greenfield, media analyst at LightShed Partners, wonders why ABC’s top-rated unscripted competition show “Dancing with the Stars” couldn’t be moved to Disney+.

Then wonder what movie theater owners, cable and broadcast TV networks and non-owned Disney-ABC TV stations (through syndication TV program deals) will feel about losing high-prized content to different types of direct to consumer (D2C) digital services.

Perhaps there are some ad/subscription revenue share deals to consider -- in return for some big promotional efforts on those traditional platforms. AMC Theaters recently struck such an arrangement with Universal Pictures when it comes to streaming share of revenues in return for shorter theatrical windows: 17 days vs.  60 to 75 days.

If the whole world is going digital, all distributing parties might be looking to long-term plans to respond. Impetus? Maybe one opportune glance at any remaining VHS tapes still on the shelf collecting content dust.

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