ABC Television | ESPN (US)

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The American Broadcasting Company, known as ABC, is one of the big four US television networks. Since 1996, the business has been a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Although the fortunes of all four networks tend to fluctuate from season to season, ABC had arguably a harder time than most in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It slipped to the bottom of the rankings towards the end of the 1990s before being brought back to life by the enormous but comparatively short-lived success of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Another slump occurred between 2002 and 2004, before the network enjoyed a half-hearted revival as a result of hit series including Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and Lost. More recently though it has been stuck in 3rd or 4th place by ratings. As a result, it is overshadowed financially within the group's media networks portfolio by the hugely successful ESPN sports brand, the world's most lucrative cable property, as well as several Disney-branded kids' networks. However, during 2015, analysts began to be alarmed at the possible impact on ESPN of a move by consumers away from traditional cable subscriptions. This caused a slump in Disney's share price despite the spectacular success of other divisions.

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ESPN ABC Family
ABC News Disney Channel
Toon Disney Disney XD

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The Walt Disney Company

Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 17th Aug 2017: In a development that demonstrates the growing attractions of the unfettered creativity (and cash) offered by Netflix, superstar producer Shonda Rimes (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder etc etc) is to end her partnership with Disney's ABC network to sign a multi-year deal with the streaming giant. She will continue to oversee existing shows on ABC, but any new series will be developed exclusively for Netflix. Rimes said "I'm thrilled by the idea of a world where I'm not caught in the necessary grind of network television," as well as the restrictions on language, nudity and violence.

Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Jun 2017: The US TV season officially ended last week, crowning CBS and NBC as the top two networks. CBS was the most watched by total viewers for the 9th consecutive year, and for the 14th time out of the past 15 seasons. NBC was the leader in primetime for the third time in four years, mainly as a result of its dominance in sports. Its Sunday Night Football was the most watched show for the 6th consecutive season, with an average of 19.75m total viewers. CBS's The Big Bang Theory celebrated its 10th season as the most watched scripted show yet again, with an extraordinary 18.99m viewers. CBS averaged a total 9.6m viewers across the season as a whole, ahead of NBC on 8.1m. ABC was third with 6.2m while Fox came bottom with 5.8m. However, the Murdoch-controlled network was the #2 network among the 18-49 age group, behind NBC. CBS and ABC took 3rd and 4th place.

Adbrands Weekly Update 11th May 2017: Stellar results at Disney's movies and parks divisions failed to assuage growing unease among investors over the performance of troubled icon ESPN. That one-time media darling continues to lose subscribers, and laid off around 100 journalists and on-air commentators last month as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Profits at Disney's studios and parks jumped by more than 20% in the quarter, but cable networks reported a second consecutive decline of 3% as a result of higher programming costs and falling subscribers. Disney did not say what the current level is, but admitted that the decline had increased marginally from the previous quarter. Nielsen estimates 87.4m subscribers, compared to 99m five years ago. Though the audience for live sports remains strong, there has been a marked shift away from ESPN's traditional results round-up and opinion shows. Sports fans now want to access bite-sized score updates and clips on their mobile devices. "There is nothing we can really do to slow that down," Disney CEO Robert Iger told investors. "It’s important for us to participate in it, and that’s what we're doing.” He said managers were working on programming changes to address "not only where consumers are today but improving our nonlive sports programming numbers." This is expected to include digital subscriptions to sport- or team-specific services. Disney's total revenues rose by only 3%, but net income was up almost 12%, significantly higher than consensus forecasts.

Adbrands Weekly Update 2nd Mar 2017: It may have been Moonlight and La La Land's night (indie distributors A24 and Lionsgate respectively), but last Sunday's Oscars also represented a triumph for Amazon and Netflix, who won four Oscars between them, the first for any streaming service. Amazon did best with no less than three trophies for Manchester By The Sea and Iranian drama The Salesman. Netflix collected Best Documentary Short for The White Helmets. As mainstream studios focus their attention increasingly on big budget spectaculars (that rarely win anything other than technical awards), the hold of Amazon and Netflix on the independent movie market is only likely to tighten. That may not bode too well for Oscars telecast ratings. The preponderance of small movies among both nominees and winners resulted in one of the lowest-ever Oscars TV audiences, totalling 32.7m US viewers. In the past 20 years or more, only one other year (2008) got a lower figure. Yet despite the gradual decline in audiences in recent years, host ABC was able to hike prices for 2017, earning a reported $115m in ad revenue for the near-four-hour broadcast.

Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Aug 2016: Disney is to launch a new standalone streaming service for its ESPN sports cable channel brand before the end of this year, following a $1bn investment in technology group BAMTech, an offshoot of Major League Baseball which manages the MLB.tv online service. The streaming service will carry completely new content to avoid conflicts with ESPN on cable. Disney hopes to offset the slow decline of traditional cable audiences for ESPN, a factor that has been weighing heavily on its share price. The group will also explore the launch of other streams based on its various media properties.


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Background

Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: ABC was originally formed in 1927 as the Blue Network, created by RCA as a second strand to run alongside NBC. It was sold off in 1943, and became The American Broadcasting Network in 1946. In 1953 it became Walt Disney's exclusive television partner, airing all the company's first excursions into the medium, including The Mickey Mouse Club, Disneyland and Zorro. In the 1970s it struck gold again with hit series such as Charlie's Angels, Starsky & Hutch and Happy Days. ABC also pioneered the concept of made-for-TV movies as well as big-budget mini-series such as Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. At the same time, the network earned a reputation for powerful news coverage (ABC News: Nightline and 20/20) and high quality sports programming (The Wide World of Sports and NFL Monday Night Football). In 1984, ABC acquired cable sports channel ESPN, selling on a 20% stake to Hearst Corporation. 

In 1988, ABC was acquired by Capital Cities, a media conglomerate with a variety of interests in newspapers, regional television stations and magazine publishing. Eight years later Capital Cities was itself engulfed by Disney in a $19bn deal, then the second biggest entertainment deal in corporate history after the Time Warner merger. At the time, ABC was the #1 US network having scored considerable success with hit shows such as Moonlighting, Roseanne and Ellen. But the network's creative juices seemed to dry up almost as soon as it had been acquired, and performance dipped dramatically. ABC's fortunes received a welcome boost in 1999 from the huge success of new game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, imported from the UK (where it had also proved a big hit with audiences). Keen to milk this ratings winner for all it was worth, ABC eventually began airing the show four times a week in a primetime slot. Inevitably, the show's popularity quickly faded and ABC once again slipped in the ratings, dropping over 20% by the end of 2001, while also reeling from a downturn in advertising spend. The network was back in third place for 2002, then slipped into fourth place in 2004 with the key television audience aged 18-49.

Meanwhile Disney bolstered its broadcast interests with the purchase in 2001 of the Fox Family Worldwide network from joint owners News Corporation and Haim Saban, paying $5.3bn in cash and debt. The group also bought Saban Entertainment, a production and merchandising company with a library of 6,500 half-hours of children's programmes, including the Power Rangers series. In addition to the US network, Disney took charge of a 76% interest in Fox Kids Europe and Fox Kids Latin America, with a combined 35m subscribers in 60 countries. The US package was rebranded as ABC Family, while Fox Kids Europe was rebranded as Jetix. See full profile for current activities


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