Disney dives deep into streaming with a supersized line-up of content planned for Disney+, Hulu & ESPN+
'Star Wars,' Marvel, Pixar and more lead $16B content investment
If the Walt Disney Company could name Thursday's Investor Day presentation after one of its recently acquired properties, it may very well be "The Empire Strikes Back."
The media giant -- racked by the coronavirus pandemic with theme park closings, feature films with no theaters to show them, and thousands of employee layoffs -- made a statement to shareholders and the world about the company's future with CEO Bob Chapek declaring that he and the company are ready to take “bold and transformative steps to accelerate our growth.”
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A large part of the growth is streaming service Disney+. In a little more than a year, the service has scored a total of 86.8 million subscribers. Disney said it expects that number to grow to somewhere between 230 million to 260 million subscribers by 2024.
With a flood of announcements Thursday, Disney+ became a supersized service with an array of some 50 new projects -- many hailing from the Disney owned-Marvel Comics universe and the "Star Wars" galaxy. The new projects include:
- 10 new Marvel series
- 10 new "Star Wars" series
- 15 Disney live-action, Disney Animation, and Pixar series
- 15 all-new Disney live-action, Disney Animation, and Pixar feature films
The company showed off new trailers for highly-anticipated Marvel series including "WandaVision," spinoffs from the smash "Avengers" films, "Falcon and the Winter Soldier" and "Loki" following the road of Thor's brother.
Other upcoming Marvel series include “Secret Invasion,” “Ironheart”, “Armor Wars”, "Moon Knight" and "She-Hulk."
The company also discussed details for new series revolving around "Star Wars" favorites Lando Calrissian, Ahsoka Tano, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Obi-Wan Kenobi series will feature Ewan McGregor reprising his role from the most recent sequels and will include Hayden Christensen returning as Darth Vader, according to the head of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy.
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"Ashoka" and “The Rangers of the New Republic” will be two spinoffs of the Emmy-Award winning Disney+ series "The Mandalorian."
Kennedy also showed footage from "Andor", starring Rogue One's Cassian Andor played by Diego Luna, and “Star Wars: The Bad Batch,” a show that centers around characters from a group of clone troopers known as Clone Force 99, or the Bad Batch, from the acclaimed “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” animated series.
Lucasfilm will also create a series outside of the "Star Wars" universe, based on the Jim Henson film “Willow” starring Warwick Davis.
Disney said it will spend between $14 and $16 billion on streaming content between now and 2024. But the cost of all those superheroes does not come cheap. Disney+ will be raising its monthly cost a dollar to $7.99 in the U.S. in March 2021.
But even that news sat well with investors. In after-hours trading Disney stock was up 4% and the company is already coming off its best stock performance ever the past two days.
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The streaming service will also house a slate of new original series based on older Disney properties including “The Mighty Ducks” and “Turner and Hooch.” Live-action versions of “Pinocchio” and “Peter Pan and Wendy” will also come exclusively to the streaming service as well as “Disenchanted,” a sequel to the hit film “Enchanted,” which will include Amy Adams returning as Giselle.
Disney+ will also add an “opt-in to mature content” feature which will allow older audiences to sign in and watch titles like “Logan,” “Modern Family” and “Atlanta."
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Disney's "other" streaming service, Hulu, was not ignored at the presentation.
Now with a total of 38.8 million subscribers, its cord-cutting Hulu + Live TV has 4 million paying subscribers, the fifth-largest pay-TV provider overall. Hulu is expected to have between 50 million and 60 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024 and is estimated to become profitable by fiscal 2023.
Hulu will also get a series of new shows including, “Only Murders in the Building” starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez as well as “The Dropout,” a show about Elizabeth Holmes starring "Saturday Night Live" veteran Kate McKinnon. There will also be a limited series called “Dopesick” featuring Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson and Peter Sarsgaard and a show called “Nine Perfect Strangers” starring Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy and Regina Hall.
In addition, the company said the Kardashian family, which will end their show on the E! Network, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” in 2021, will make their way to Hulu creating global content that will stream exclusively on the service later that year.
Hulu will also have new seasons of “Ramy,” “The Great”, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia." It is also adding new series such as “The Old Man,” starring Jeff Bridges and “Reservation Dogs” from Taika Waititi.
Basic cable service, FX, was not left out of the content parade either. It will add a series based on the hit sci-fi horror films franchise, “Alien.”
Disney's sports streaming service, ESPN+, also had a big announcement. Disney has secured a deal with the Southeastern Conference to become the home of the wildly popular college football conference starting with the 2024 season. ABC will also become the home for Saturday afternoon games in 2024. In addition, television sports personality Steve A. Smith is getting his own ESPN+ show while former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning will bring his series “Peyton’s Places” back for a third season.
As it did with "Mulan" and much like rival Warner Bros, Disney is hedging its bets on theatrical releases with the coronavirus still impacting entertainment. Disney will release “Raya and the Last Dragon,’' in theaters on March 5, 2021, as well as through a Premier Access release on Disney+ in most markets on the same day.
Other feature films on the company's slate include a new musical, "Encanto", in the fall of 2021 with songs from "Hamilton"-creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. The new animated film is set in Colombia, is about “the dangerously wonderful chaos of family,” and contains elements of “magical realism.”
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Lucasfilm will bring Harrison Ford's last adventure as Indiana Jones to the big screen in 2022, which will begin filming in spring 2021. Kennedy also announced that "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins will helm a new Star Wars film set for Christmas 2023 called “Rogue Squadron.”
Marvel Studios head Kevin Fiege also announced that the company will be making a “Fantastic Four” film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This marks the third attempt by Marvel to launch this band of superheroes into box office stardom.
In addition, sequels to "Captain Marvel" and "Black Panther" are set. "Black Panther 2" will pay tribute to its late star, Chadwick Boseman, who passed away from colon cancer earlier this year. The role will not be recast, instead focusing on other characters that appeared in the original groundbreaking film. Disney also expects to release its previously delayed blockbuster "Black Widow" in May 2021.
Pixar will have two new movies coming in 2022. The first is called “Turning Red,” a movie about a young teenager that turns into a giant red panda every time she gets excited. The second is “Lightyear,” the "definitive story of the original Buzz Lightyear," who inspired the toy space ranger voiced by Tim Allen in the "Toy Story" franchise. "Lightyear" will star Chris Evans and will hit theaters in June 2022.
“Jungle Cruise,” which was postponed from 2020 will arrive in theaters in July 2021. It stars Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson and is based on the Disney theme park ride of the same name.