Disney’s Eight Biggest Business Stories of the Year
The Walt Disney Company has its fingers in many pies. Obviously, we focus on the theme parks here at MickeyBlog, but some news items don’t fit into a specific box. Here are eight of Disney’s most important industry stories of the year.
8. One Day at Disney Announcement Is a Bust
The launch of a coffee table book somehow became one of the weirdest things that Disney did this year. I should set the table a bit for this one.
In early August, Disney’s arch-rival, Universal Studios, announced a new project. At Universal Orlando Resort, the company will construct Epic Universe, which they’ve promised will become the most revolutionary theme park in history.
Whenever Universal does something like this, people naturally wonder how Disney will respond. A couple of weeks later, a reporter learned that Disney had planned an announcement. The company would reveal details of a “secret project” on August 22nd.
Many fans, myself included, understandably speculated about the significant project that the company would announce. With the 2019 D-23 Expo in the offing, the timing seemed right for a significant reveal.
Instead, Disney spent an hour talking about One Day at Disney, a coffee table book. Now, it’s a lovely book that you’ll find in your room at Disney’s Riviera Resort the next time that you visit. It’s just, you know, the worst “secret project” since Google Glass.
7. The Little Mermaid Live! Is Super-weird
During the 2010s, television networks discovered a strange formula for boosting ratings. They would broadcast live performances of beloved musicals. Some of these shows like Grease were hugely successful, while others like Hairspray failed utterly.
In November of 2019, Disney took this idea and modified it for an ABC broadcast. The company is currently remaking live-action versions of animated classics for its division.
ABC decided to split the difference by airing a live performance of The Little Mermaid. But the broadcast included vital scenes from the movie as well. The production team felt it couldn’t recreate those realistically.
To its credit, Disney did something right in casting Auliʻi Cravalho as the voice of Moana. Her powerful voice proved ideal for Ariel’s songs. However, the rest of the musical confused even the most devoted fans of The Little Mermaid. And critics despised it. Here are some of the quotes:
- “sunk straight to the bottom of the ocean”
- “just wasn’t much of anything”
- “as heavy-handed as the makeup pancaked on a 19th century brothel worker”
- “an advertisement on ABC for Disney Plus”
Disney tried something ambitious here. Unfortunately, the attempt didn’t succeed.
6. Cricket Matches Lead to Historic Ratings
Okay, I’m not overly familiar with Cricket, and I don’t expect that you are, either. Don’t worry! This story doesn’t really involve the sport. It’s more about Disney’s global expansion.
In Disney CEO Robert Iger’s book, he mentions his initial three plans for reinvigorating the company. One strategy that still informs his decisions is the international expansion of the Disney brand. This tactic surprisingly paid dividends during 2019.
Disney recently acquired a streaming service called Hotstar. It mainly hosts live sports events, particularly ones popular in India and Pakistan. Hotstar secured the streaming rights to the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, which proved to be one of the smartest acquisitions in the history of streaming.
On June 16th, India and Pakistan competed in this event. The two countries and sometimes geopolitical rivals want bragging rights whenever possible. And those two nations are also arguably the most popular places for Cricket.
So, the Cricket World Cup became a perfect storm for Hotstar, leading to more than 100 million same-day viewers. Yes, that’s a record for any streaming service on the planet. At one point, 18.6 million people watched the game simultaneously. That, too, is a record.
During this one sporting event, Hotstar became one of the most valuable properties in Disney’s entire library. And that’s a big deal.
5. High-speed Train Confirmed at Walt Disney World
Okay, this item somewhat involves the parks. However, it includes Orlando International Airport (MCO) just as much. Virgin Trains USA purchased Brightline so that the company could operate a high-speed railway system across Florida.
Any project of this scale will eventually get to Orlando, as the city’s the (unofficial) tourist capital for the entire state. During 2019, Virgin progressed toward a central station at MCO. At that point, everyone waited for the other shoe to drop.
Sure enough, Disney and Virgin have both confirmed that a connecting line will run back and forth between MCO and Walt Disney World. The future of Disney airport transportation should arrive within the next 30-36 months.
4. Disney Completes Fox Acquisition
In March of 2019, one of the largest media acquisitions in history transpired. Disney bought almost everything that Fox owned. In the process, Disney gained a massive back catalog of movies and television programs.
Prized intellectual properties like The Simpsons, National Geographic, and The X-Files exchanged hands. Disney also regained movie licensing rights for Marvel characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four. The company would use these resources almost immediately in what became the most prominent industry story of the year.
3. Spider-Man Gets Briefly Ex-communicated from MCU
Tom Holland seems like one of the nicest people in Hollywood. Whenever he interacts with other actors, he’s polite, friendly, and quick to laugh. There’s something about that dude that screams, “Tom Holland would help me move my couch.”
The actor’s natural kindness makes this story even stranger. For a time, Disney kicked Spider-Man, aka Tom Holland, out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Some moron at Sony recognized that Disney had the D-23 Expo approaching. So, this person went public with the opinion that Disney had bargained unfairly for more Spider-Man films in the MCU.
This blatant attempt to place Disney on the defensive just before D-23 backfired totally. Sony faced a savage social media backlash as Marvel fans reminded the studio about the franchise’s pre-Disney status. It wasn’t pretty. At the same time, Sony made Kevin Feige out to be the villain, which is like asking why Santa Claus is such a jerk.
Disney angrily ended discussions and gave every indication that Spider-Man no longer had a home on Avengers Campus. Thankfully, this cold war lasted barely a month. Hat in hand, Sony came back to Disney and pleaded for a new deal. Feige and his team agreed, restoring Tom Holland’s future.
PS: Holland may or may not have drunk-dialed Disney CEO Robert Iger to help facilitate the MCU reunion.
2. Endgame Becomes Biggest Film Ever
Some stories, such as the last one, require a lot of explaining. Others like this one are more matter-of-fact. Disney successfully built the MCU over a decade, and the fruits of that labor were on display in May-July.
During that timeframe, Avengers: Endgame enjoyed the highest opening weekend ever, both domestically and globally. Then, the climactic movie stalked Avatar, the number one box office hit of all-time, through mid-July.
On July 20th, Disney confirmed that Endgame had surpassed Avatar to become the biggest film ever. Since the company had acquired Avatar in the Fox purchase, Disney owns the top two releases ever.
1. Disney+ Triumph
Since the first announcement of its existence, MickeyBlog has kept you updated on what to expect from Disney+. Even we couldn’t have possibly predicted what would happen on its first day, though.
For the body of a year, business analysts indicated that Disney would struggle in this new endeavor. After all, Netflix claims a dominant percentage of market share in streaming media. How could a fledgling service hope to compete with them?
Sure, some folks described Disney as a long-term potential Netflix killer, but nobody expected immediate success. The general baseline for the first day of Disney+ was two million subscribers, maybe three million if the stars aligned. Analysts felt strongly that Disney needed 10 million subscribers by the end of 2020 to compete in the marketplace.
Never bet against Disney, my friends.
During a 24-hour period, 10 million people signed up for Disney+. Yes, it matched predictions for its first 15 months in a single day.
Disney combined massive marketing campaigns across all of its forums with a tantalizingly low price of $6.99 per month. And the company even offered deals to lower that price. I’ve already paid for Disney+ through November of 2021!
The 10 million total surprised so many people that publications like NBC News ran a detailed analysis of how Disney pulled off the impossible feat. While the company hasn’t confirmed the number, some in the industry believe that 24 million people signed up during November! That’s more than double what smart people said Disney+ could manage in 15 months!
Robert Iger bet his legacy on the success of Disney+. Right now, that looks like the safest of wagers.