In a surprise twist earlier this month, alongside its third-quarter earnings report Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) announced plans for new streaming services. The new services, which will be enabled by an acquisition of direct-to-consumer streaming technology company BAMTech, will launch in 2018 and 2019.
While there are still lots of questions about Disney's upcoming streaming services, management has said enough for investors to start considering the potential implications of this strategic move. Here's a look at what we know so far.
1. Disney has plans for two streaming services.
Disney plans to launch two direct-to-consumer streaming services -- an ESPN-branded multi-sport video service and a Disney-branded service.
ESPN: Interestingly, the ESPN-branded multi-sport service will not migrate programming from pay TV services. While customers using the app will be able to access direct streams from ESPN channels bundled with their pay TV services, the stand-alone aspects of the new streaming service will essentially be a one-stop shop for scores, news, highlights, and additional sports products beyond those streamed on pay TV, including 10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events every year.
Disney: The Disney-branded streaming service, on the other hand, will "become the exclusive home in the U.S. for subscription-video-on-demand viewing of the newest live action and animated movies from Disney and Pixar," the company said in a press release about its plans for the service. In addition, the service will also include the company's library of previously released Disney and Pixar movies and television programming from Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and Disney XD.
2. The ESPN streaming service will launch first.
Disney's ESPN service will launch in "early 2018," Disney said.
3. A Disney-branded streaming service will launch in 2019.
More specifically, Disney CEO Bob Iger said during the company's earnings call that its Disney-branded streaming service will launch in the U.S. "in the latter part of 2019."
4. Pay TV subscribers will be able to access the ESPN streaming service.
Even though Disney's ESPN streaming service will feature additional content and a new experience outside of the linear ESPN channels bundled with pay TV, Disney plans to include access to the service with pay TV bundles that include ESPN.
5. Disney will end its distribution agreement with Netflix in 2019.
Don't expect to see the sequel to Frozen, the live-action version of The Lion King, or Toy Story 4 on Netflix. To help bolster its Disney streaming service, the company said it is ending its distribution agreement with Netflix for streaming of new releases from 2019 forward.
6. Expect more original content from Disney.
Disney wants to take its original content to the next level. To help strengthen its new streaming service, the company said it plans to make "a significant investment in an annual slate of original movies, TV shows, short-form content and other Disney-branded exclusives for the service."
Disney's more aggressive commitment to new original content comes as original content is increasingly considered necessary to building out major streaming services. Even Apple is reportedly getting in on the original content hype.
7. Disney isn't yet sure what it will do with Star Wars or Marvel.
Two surprising movie studios owned by Disney that weren't mentioned in Disney's press release about its new streaming services were Star Wars and Marvel. That's because Disney isn't sure yet what it wants to do with the important franchises, Iger explained during Disney's third-quarter earnings call.
Well, what we're saying specifically is that the Disney-branded app will have the Disney and Pixar films. The disposition of the Marvel and Lucas or Star Wars films, we have not determined yet. We've had a discussion internally about what -- how best to bring them to the consumer.
Iger went on to say that there's a possibility the company could continue to license Marvel and Star Wars to services like Netflix. But there's no certainty yet about Disney's plans for the important studios.
8. Disney believes the upside potential is much greater for this business model.
Over the long haul, Disney believes there's greater upside for its business by launching streaming services, and by increasingly transitioning its business away from licensing to direct-to-consumer distribution. But Iger was careful not to put a time stamp on his prediction when he pointed to the business model's likely upside during Disney's earnings call.
Obviously, if you -- as you move product from, I'll call it, a licensed-to-third-party model to a self-distributed model, you're forgoing the licensing revenue that you would get for whatever revenues you generate by all the things that I just described. We believe that ultimately -- I can't give you an idea of when or how long -- the profitability, the revenue-generating capability of this initiative is substantially greater than the business models that we're currently being served by.
One thing is clear: two new streaming services from Disney mark a major strategic shift for Disney.