Disney details overarching direct-to-consumer plan possible through Fox deal

Disney CEO Bob Iger positioned his company’s acquisition of Fox’s TV and movie businesses as a way for the company to prepare for a future in which streaming and direct-to-consumer dominate media consumption, on a conference call this morning to discuss the $52 billion deal. He noted that while they’re still planning to support cable channels and external distribution channels, this will also set them up to be ready to “flip a switch and distribute those programs and channels direct to consumer through platforms we’ve created.”

As part of that, Disney seems to have big plans in place for developing Hulu out as a direct-to-consumer service, according to Iger, who noted that Hulu is “obviously a great opportunity to expand” its direct consumer offerings, and relished the additional ownership stake that Disney will gain as a result of the deal in terms of what it means for the company’s ability to influence Hulu’s development direction.

Iger added that this will allow Hulu to “become an even more viable competitor” to existing services, likely referencing Netflix and Amazon Prime Video without naming them directly. He also said that Disney will of course be “flowing more content in Hulu’s direction” now that it owns a controlling 39 percent majority stake, but he seemed more exited by the reality that Disney now has essentially final say in terms of Hulu product decisions.

“Managing Hulu becomes just a little bit more clear, a little more efficient, a little more effective as a controlling shareholder,” he said.

Iger also responded to multiple questions about the difference between its various direct-to-consumer offerings, including its forthcoming Disney streaming service coming in 2019, and its ESPN over-the-top subscription services. He outlined that they sort of see Hulu as a delivery method for more adult-oriented Fox TV offerings, Disney’s streaming service as a family oriented offering around Lucasfilm, Marvel and Disney, and ESPN as a sports fan service.

“I don’t think you should necessarily look at it as individual businesses, but I think you should look at it as opportunities in consumer choice, and consumer options,” he added, clarifying that “of course” there would be options available whereby consumers could sign up for everything all at once, too.

“Hulu has been increasing its investment in original programming and licensed programming,” but Disney hasn’t yet decided whether it will continue or increase that since it’s premature to be making those kinds of plans at this point. Iger did point out that Disney’s ownership puts it in a position to ramp considerably on original content based on its existing intellectual property, however.