Disney mulls sale of more films and TV series

Ongoing revamp: Visitors exiting the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland in California. Iger offers free photos and more lower-price tickets to theme-park guests irked by rising fees as the company comes under pressure to improve its financial performance. — AP

LOS ANGELES: Walt Disney Co is exploring more licensing of its films and television series to rival media outlets as pressure grows to curb the losses in its streaming TV business.

The Burbank, California-based entertainment giant is seeking to earn more cash from its content library, according to sources.

The move would represent a shift in strategy, as Disney has in recent years tried to keep much of its original programming exclusively on its Disney+ and Hulu streaming services.

A spokesperson for Disney declined to comment.

Disney is under pressure to improve its financial performance and change its streaming strategy.

Last year, the company turned in its worst stock market results in decades.

After Disney reported a US$1.5bil (RM6.4bil) loss for its online video business in the third quarter, the board fired chief executive officer Bob Chapek, replacing him with Bob Iger, who had previously held that job for 15 years.

Among his many challenges, Iger must also cope with a proxy fight by activist Nelson Peltz, who’s seeking a seat on Disney’s board and pushing for better performance.

Iger, 71, will share more of his plans when the company reports financial results on Feb 8, but he has has already taken steps to reverse decisions made by his predecessor.

He offered free photos and more lower-price tickets to theme-park guests irked by rising fees.

The longtime media executives has promised to redesign the company’s organisational structure, in particular an unpopular move by Chapek that put decisions on where and when to release films and TV shows in the hands of distribution executives that don’t make the programmes.

Iger has said he wants to return more decision making to creative executives, and put the restructuring in the hands of his chief financial officer Christine McCarthy, ESPN boss Jimmy Pitaro, Disney studios head Alan Bergman, and Dana Walden, who chairs Disney’s general entertainment group.

Pitaro, Bergman and Walden all lost authority under the old structure.

The reorganisation will also result in personnel cuts, the sources said, although it is unclear how many will lose their jobs.

The company has already frozen new hiring.

Iger retired as CEO in 2020 with the company seemingly well-positioned for the future.

His acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm had given Disney the most valuable trove of characters in entertainment, while the company’s new streaming service, Disney+, was adding millions of customers a month.

Although Disney already licenses some titles to other platforms including Amazon.com Inc’s Prime streaming service, it began to hoard content with the launch of Disney+ in 2019.

Disney curtailed licensing of its own programmes to third parties to boost that service.

A deal that had Disney films running on Netflix Inc was phased out, and the company touted how much of its new programming came from its own in-house studios.

Wall Street cheered at the time because it meant the company was entirely focused on building out the streaming business.

The shift was costly, however, as Disney surrendered billions of dollars from home video sales and licensing deals with other networks.

The pandemic forced Chapek to lean into streaming even more, releasing original movies on streaming services, and offending talent in the process.

As the global economy slowed, and Netflix subscriber growth along with it, investors have raised concerns about how much money companies like Disney are spending on unprofitable streaming services.

Selling more content to third parties would follow similar moves in the media industry such as at Warner Bros Discovery Inc, where CEO David Zaslav has taken shows off of his HBO Max streaming service and resold them to rivals like Roku Inc and Fox Corp’s Tubi.

Lions Gate Entertainment Corp is separating its studio business from its Starz streaming service, and has said its films and TV series would be made for a number of platforms.

Disney executives have discussed selling more titles to third parties and are in the process of shopping certain titles right now. It remains to be seen if they keep them in-house at Hulu or they sell them to an outside bidder. — Bloomberg

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