Disney is almost certainly the world's most widely known and best-trusted entertainment brand. After years of ailing performance following the death of its founder, it found a whole new lease of life in the 1980s by reinventing the concept of the animated family movie. The huge popular success of The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and others encouraged the group to spread its wings into other areas; a key development was the takeover of Capital Cities/ABC to create one of the world's biggest media conglomerates. But by the end of the 1990s a good deal of the shine had come off the company's prestige as the house of mouse was rocked by management rows and lacklustre performance from both its core movies division and the ABC Television Network. The years of rumbling discontent culminated in a rift in the group's board, followed by an unexpected (but unsuccessful) takeover bid from cable giant Comcast. Peace was finally restored in 2005 when divisive CEO Michael Eisner agreed to step down in favour of his deputy Bob Iger. Performance continued to be mercurial for a few years, buffeted by recessionary forces, declines in DVD sales, and several under-performing movie releases. In fact, the group's most consistently profitable subsidiary for several years was not its high-profile movies, parks or ABC divisions but top-rated cable sports network ESPN. Disney finally got into its stride again with the takeover of Marvel and the astonishing success of the various movies inspired by its diverse collection of superheroes. In an even more startling move, it announced a deal to acquire most of entertainment rival 21st Century Fox at the end of 2017 for $66.1bn in stock and debt.
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|ABC Network||Animal Kingdom|
|Walt Disney Pictures||Disney's California Adventure|
|Touchstone Pictures||Disney Home Video|
|Hollywood Pictures||Walt Disney Records|
|Disney Vacation Club||Walt Disney Books|
|Disney Interactive||Tokyo Disneyland|
|Disney Theme Parks||Walt Disney Cruises|
Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Apr 2018: In a bid to clear the roadblock over its bid to take full control of European satellite broadcaster Sky, 21st Century Fox has proposed the sale of Sky News to Walt Disney. It's hoped this might ease regulators' concerns over the Murdoch family's influence on UK news reportage. If so, Fox could complete its takeover of Sky, and then sell on the business to either Disney as already agreed, or alternatively to separate bidder Comcast. Disney has agreed to acquire Sky News even if it doesn't end up with control of the rest of Sky.
Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Apr 2018: Disney/Marvel's Black Panther was finally toppled last week as the #1 movie in the US (by Pacific Rim: Uprising) after an extraordinary five week run, but it has nonetheless completely dominated the box office for the first quarter of 2018, with takings in excess of $650m. It became the 5th highest grossing movie of all-time in the US in the space of just 31 days, and is likely to reach the #3 spot before the end of this month. Similarly, Sony's Jumanji sequel - released late last December - enjoyed almost as strong a hold over January, reigning as the #1 for four out of the first five weeks of 2018 to accumulate a total gross of over $403m. The dominance of both movies illustrates an alarming dilemma facing movie studios. The next most popular release, Peter Rabbit, has grossed just $110m, and only one other - Fifty Shades Freed - broke $100m.
Ticket sales are increasingly concentrated among just a handful of ultra-successful releases, while other movies struggle to find any audience at all. According to researcher comScore, in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the top 10 movies of the year raked in between 32% and 35% of total box office. Previously, that figure had never exceeded 30%. For the first quarter of 2018, the equivalent figure is 58%, and that's excluding Jumanji, officially a hold-over from 2017. In reality, Black Panther and Jumanji alone accounted for over a third of total box office since 29th Dec. As the WSJ pointed out, "With the rapidly growing high-quality television options and more original movies available to watch at home on streaming services, it is harder to draw people to movie theatres. Because people no longer need to go to theatres to find something good to see, they are more likely to be drawn when a movie becomes a cultural phenomenon, like 'Black Panther' or last year’s horror sensation 'It'."
Adbrands Weekly Update 15th Mar 2018: Walt Disney Company appears to have identified two new potential successors to CEO Robert Iger. The group realigned its operating divisions, combining what are currently two separate divisions of consumer products & interactive media and parks & resorts under the latter's current chief Robert Chapek. At the same time, a new direct-to-consumer & international division was created to house the group's soon-to-launch streaming services and its international cable channels (which could soon also include various properties being acquired from Fox and a controlling position in Hulu). This division will also oversee global ad sales for all the group's various media operations, including its US networks. Current group strategy chief Kevin Mayer was named as its divisional chairman. The studio entertainment business led by Alan Horn is unchanged; while the bulk of the media networks division under Ben Sherwood and James Pitaro also remains the same, though slimmed down to just the US operations, and stripped of its ad sales business. Precise details of financial reporting are not yet confirmed, but the reorganisation will put Chapek in charge of Disney's biggest single business, with combined sales in 2017 of around $23.3bn, overtaking Media Networks, which will slim down to around $12bn once international and ad sales are stripped out.
Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Mar 2018: It's turning into a year of surprises in the US movie industry. Sony's Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle was an unexpected hit for the first few weeks of the year, but it pales (literally) beside the all-conquering force of Disney/Marvel's Black Panther, already the 9th highest-grossing movie of all time in North America just three weeks after release. With a US gross which has already topped $510m, it has taken five times more than the next most popular new release of 2018 (Universal's Fifty Shades Freed at $96m). We will have to wait until next year to see if the success of Black Panther is reflected in Oscars glory, but it looks very unlikely. Last year's breakout "diversity" hit Wonder Woman was almost entirely overlooked this year. The 2018 Academy Awards, broadcast on ABC, made for an entertaining television event, certainly for the cognoscenti and industry insiders, but the mass American viewing public was unimpressed. The TV audience of 26.5m viewers marked a record low for the event, down 19% on last year, and the first time in the modern TV age that the audience has fallen below 30m. The major contributing factor is the pre-eminence of arthouse fare over the commercial hits that, until 2005, always dominated the event. As recently as 2004, the winner of the Best Picture would always have been among the year's three or four biggest hits at the US box office. Fox Searchlight's The Shape of Water is a fine film, but it was only the 48th most popular with US audiences last year. The two most successful of the other nominees, Dunkirk and Get Out, were 14th and 15th respectively. That reflects an increasingly bizarre disconnect between the films the industry values and the ones that audiences want to see.
Adbrands Weekly Update 1st Mar 2018: In an intriguing new development in the Fox-Sky takeover saga, Comcast announced a plan to buy the European satellite broadcaster outright for £22.1bn (almost $31bn), a significant increase on Sky's current valuation, and also well above the price at which Fox is offering to buy the shares it doesn't already own. Comcast's smart move provides a possible solution to the ongoing battle between Fox and UK regulators over Sky. Fox had hoped to buy the outstanding Sky shares before selling the business on to Disney, along with other assets. However that plan looks unlikely to get past regulators, which means Disney would have to accept Fox's existing 39% stake and then bid for the rest in a separate process. Comcast, on the other hand, says it would accept a minority partner in Sky - Fox in the short-term, and then Disney - so the ball is now back into Disney's court. Does it relinquish Sky to Comcast, or does it make another even higher offer of its own for the public Sky shares?
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Jan 2018: Streaming service Hulu keeps going from strength to strength. It scored another triumph at the Golden Globes with two big wins, including Best Drama, for The Handmaid's Tale. (Amazon won Best Comedy for The Marvellous Mrs Maizel). The enormous success of Handmaid also encouraged Hulu to release revenue and subscriber data. The company said ad revenues topped $1bn for the first time in 2017, while subscriber numbers soared by over 40% to 17m. That's still far behind Netflix (109m) and Amazon (around 90m), but it's a big encouragement to prospective majority owner Disney. If and when its acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox goes through, Disney will become the majority owner of Hulu (with 60% of equity) as well as of Sky in Europe and Star of India. The big question is what rival Comcast will do at that point. Comcast inherited NBCUniversal's one-third stake in Hulu when it acquired that group in 2013, but was forced by regulators to surrender its voting shares for a set period. That lock-out ends in September this year, at which point Comcast will regain a 30% voting stake in Hulu. Time Warner (or possibly AT&T by then) will have the remaining 10%. So what happens then? Will Hulu's junior investors accept their new senior partner's control, or will they force a sale?
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