Disney Headlines for July 20th, 2023
This week, potential bidders weigh their options for ESPN, while Disney shows forethought with its Haunted Mansion campaign.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion Was a Ghost Town
Have you seen the adorable pictures of Mickey & Minnie Mouse wearing their Haunted Mansion costumes?
This kawaii exercise didn’t happen by accident. Instead, it reflected Disney’s emergency use of a contingency plan to solve an awkward problem.
Last week, SAG-AFTRA, the acting guild in Hollywood, went on strike, thereby joining the Writers Guild of America.
Once that happened, cast members could no longer perform publicity for Disney’s upcoming theatrical release, Haunted Mansion.
For multiple reasons, that’s tragic. First, no matter what Disney CEO Bob Iger says, actors and writers deserve more pay and deeper respect.
Second, the cast of Haunted Mansion is clearly having the time of its collective life in promoting the film.
Reigning Academy Award winner Jamie Lee Curtis has gleefully embraced her appearances in and around the Disneyland attraction.
Meanwhile, my wife delights in the budding bromance between LaKeith Stanfield and Owen Wilson, who seemingly live to crack each other up.
Earlier this month, all three of them gleefully dressed up as cast members at Haunted Mansion and welcomed guests to the Stretching Room.
I live for videos like this:
Unfortunately, that’s the last of them, at least as far as we know. I cannot say for sure because Disney planned ahead here.
Some clever strategists recognized that the odds were good that a multi-party strike would occur soon.
Before that could happen, they lured the cast to Disneyland to film these clips.
Had they waited until after July 14th or later, the cast couldn’t have done any of this.
Disney deserves a ton of credit for such forethought.
Disney’s Inventive Haunted Mansion Solution
Still, conventional Hollywood tactics prevented them from pushing up the film’s world premiere.
That’s the awkward part here. Disney scheduled Haunted Mansion’s red-carpet premiere at Disneyland on July 15th.
Yes, that was two days too late for actors to appear due to the strike.
Unfortunately for Disney, it had brokered sponsorship deals for the world premiere event, which is a thing that happens in Hollywood.
Big brands want their names associated with upcoming blockbusters. Film producers like Disney make deals with such companies.
In Disney’s case, it had already cashed the checks for Haunted Mansion. It was a literal demonstration of the concept, “The show must go on.”
With no other options due to the strike, Disney sent in the backup troops.
In this case, Mickey & Minnie Mouse walked the red carpet instead of Jamie Lee Curtis and LaKeith Stanfield.
As a one-time-only thing, I found it incredibly clever and quite charming.
Sadly, most media coverage of the event has described the idea as, well, “sad.”
As a Disney fan, I disagree completely, but the whole thing summarizes Disney’s baffling summer 2023 movie campaign.
The Little Mermaid gets a bad rap even though it’s A) quite good and B) an overachiever at the domestic box office.
Meanwhile, everyone decides the fate of Elemental after three days.
So, few of them realize it has surpassed the box office of The Good Dinosaur, Encanto, and Lightyear.
Now, Disney hosts a lavish premiere for Haunted Mansion less than 48 hours after Hollywood goes on strike.
You can’t say Disney hasn’t been lucky at the movies this summer. Unfortunately, it’s all bad luck.
On the plus side, Haunted Mansion looks like the great film we’d all hoped it would be.
Who Wouldn’t Want to Own (Part of) ESPN?
Did you know that Disney doesn’t fully own ESPN? It’s true.
Disney owns 80 percent of the pie, while Hearst Communications purchased the other 20 percent.
That odd setup isn’t rare in the corporate world, nor is it unusual for Disney.
Remember that Comcast, Disney’s direct competitor in several industries, currently owns one-third of Hulu.
Disney must pay for that other third of Hulu by a set date in 2024.
To pay for that purchase, Bob Iger is willing to sell some of Disney’s core assets.
I cannot pretend to be surprised by this decision, as it’s been the best move on the board for a while now.
However, I did shoot Iger some side-eye over his statement that Disney may sell a piece of ESPN or spin off the entire brand.
I’ve predicted the latter as a possibility for a while now. Disney’s recent reorganization made it easier than ever.
Selling a portion of ESPN is a more intriguing proposition, and I’m not the only one who thinks that way.
Here’s Investopedia (!!!) spit-balling ideas on the most likely suitors for Disney.
Most of their comments involve conjecture, which isn’t what we typically cover in Headlines.
This piece stood out because it tracked some of the same arguments I’ve made.
Bob Iger took the loss of IPL cricket rights personally. He realized that Disney works under constraints that the largest companies lack.
Businesses like Amazon, Apple, and Google don’t play by the same rules as Disney. They sometimes splash around with media purchases, though.
Iger’s Worst Fear
For example, Google shocked many when it won the broadcast rights for NFL Sunday Ticket.
Does Google need those rights? Absolutely not. It’s like when you or I buy a Disney t-shirt. It’s just something to do for fun.
Meanwhile, Disney desperately could have used those Sunday Ticket rights…just like it needed IPL cricket rights to maintain Disney+ subscribers.
When various sports rights come up in the future, Iger wants ESPN prepared for all eventualities.
As such, Iger isn’t selling ESPN rights for the money as much as he wants a deep-pocketed partner who will foot the bill.
For example, the NBA currently earns a combined $2.66 billion in licensing from Warner Bros. Discovery and ESPN.
Since the NBA remains wildly popular – some would argue it’s growing – it will expect more money in the next deal.
Disney may not be able to afford that offer unless it gets help.
Iger’s Bold Plan
Bob Iger has evaluated the marketplace and correctly realized that sports broadcast rights drive eyeballs more than any other form of entertainment.
ESPN cannot get shut out of those deals, but it’s losing the licensing cost arms race.
So, someone like one of those three tech giants makes sense as a co-owner.
Similarly, one of the major smartphone carriers would also do well to gain ESPN rights.
In that scenario, someone like Verizon, AT&T, or maybe even Comcast would co-own ESPN.
In return, their phones would broadcast ESPN as part of packages.
Everything about this possibility makes sense, but I suspect Iger has dreamt of a bigger plan here.
What if Comcast willingly exchanged its Hulu ownership interest in exchange for a piece of ESPN?
Since Comcast already owns Peacock, ESPN seems more valuable.
Perhaps Disney would even agree to stream ESPN on Peacock as well as the Disney Bundle.
There are a LOT of potential plays here for all the most powerful media companies as well as a few who dabble in the industry.
Iger should find plenty of options for deals that secure Disney’s future as a media company.
That’s what’s at stake in all these Headlines about Disney pieces being up for sale.
The fly in the ointment here is that Hearst owns 20 percent. Disney must persuade that company that any deal is in Hearst’s best interest as well.
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Feature Photo: Disney