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How Disney’s Investment In Entertainment Brands Like Marvel and Star Wars Will Power The Launch Of Its New Streaming Service

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At a board retreat in Orlando, Florida, in 2006, a pair of senior Disney executives predicted a seismic shift in the media landscape — one fueled by consumers who would enjoy unprecedented access to content. Their plan? Amass strong enough entertainment brands and franchises to grab the attention of viewers awash in choices.

That insight, part of a “Disney 2015” presentation by its CFO at the time, Tom Staggs, and corporate strategist Kevin Mayer, was delivered a dozen years before Netflix briefly surpassed Disney as the world’s most valuable media company in 2018. It would inform an aggressive buying binge, in the mold of the Pixar Animation Studios deal of 2006, that would roll up some of the world’s most recognizable entertainment brands under the Disney banner — Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox. These form the foundation of the coming Disney+ streaming service, which CEO Bob Iger will discuss in detail at an investor day Thursday on Disney’s manicured studio lot in Burbank, California.

Analysts say Disney’s library of blockbuster films and popular TV shows, bolstered by its recent acquisition of Fox’s film and television assets, give it a competitive advantage that should help attract subscribers — even at a time when established rivals, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have gained a substantial head-start.

Disney and Fox together account for 47% of the top 100 films of all time, based on domestic box office. That’s more than double the nearest competitor, Warner Bros., with 20 hit movies. The combined Disney and Fox libraries also command the largest share of the 100 most popular TV shows, as ranked by IMDB.  

Disney plans to mine its Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars franchises for original shows that will appear exclusively on the streaming service, including a live-action Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian, an animated series Monsters At Work, with Billy Crystal and John Goodman reprising their roles as Mike and Sully, and a series based on the Marvel archer character Hawkeye, starring Jeremy Renner.

“The amalgamation of Disney’s and Fox’s libraries will create an unparalleled combination of great, hard to recreate and memorable content,” said media analyst Michael Nathanson.

Nathanson predicts Disney+ will attract 7.1 million subscribers in its first year, growing to nearly 24 million by the end of fiscal 2022.

A question remains about whether a content company like Disney will be able to match Netflix’s technological prowess. The Los Gatos-based streaming service has been able to draw from its vast trove of user data to deliver recommendations that keep its 139 million global subscribers watching, month after month, and inform programming decisions.

Disney has stumbled on previous digital endeavors, such as DisneyLife, a U.K.-based streaming service that launched in 2015, charging £10 a month for access to some 400 movies, 4,000 TV episodes as well as songs and books. Despite a price drop, it has failed to catch on with subscribers, according to numerous published accounts.

The success of Disney+ is something Iger is staking his legacy on, describing it, during a recent investor call, as “our number one priority.”

That’s a major strategic shift for Disney, which had enabled the growth of Netflix through lucrative multi-year deals, such as the one in 2012 that gave the streaming service exclusive TV rights to new and catalog films, and another, the following year, that handed Netflix access to Marvel’s muscular superhero roster — with ABC Television Studio developing original series based on comic book characters Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

Netflix became the de facto syndicator for a number of TV shows, noted Nathanson.

The inescapable toll of cord-cutting, fanned by popular services like Netflix, caused a re-calibration inside the Mouse House. Disney’s traditional cash cow, ESPN, has shed 13 million domestic subscribers from its peak in 20013, and Disney Channel also has lost millions of pay TV viewers.

Iger shifted course in 2017, announcing that Disney would pull its content from Netflix and launch its own service in 2019. That August, the company invested $1.58 billion to acquire a majority ownership of BAMTech, the MLB-founded video streaming technology that will power Disney+. That same year, in December, Disney announced its ground-breaking deal to acquire much of Fox, a move that would position Disney as the world’s preeminent entertainment company — and bulk up its library as it prepares to do battle with Netflix.

The $71.3 billion Fox deal, which closed in March, reunited the X-Men and Fantastic Four with the rest of the Marvel universe, added The Simpsons and Ice Age to Disney and Pixar’s animated roster, and brought James Cameron’s four sequels to the box-office blockbuster Avatar under the Disney banner. It also gave Disney a controlling interest in Hulu, a streaming service jointly owned with Comcast’s NBCUniversal and AT&T’s WarnerMedia, which has amassed 25 million subscribers.

Disney announced a sweeping corporate reorganization in March of 2018, to consolidate its streaming operations under the executive who’d overseen its major acquisitions, Kevin Mayer. Previously, efforts had been fragmented among the different business units, with the film and television groups pursuing different digital strategies, say former insiders.

“Depending on how aggressively Disney intends to invest, and their willingness to accept compressed profit margins, the company has a chance to become a meaningful competitor to Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video,” wrote Brian Wieser, a long-time media analyst who now oversees business intelligence for GroupM, one of the world’s largest media buyers.

-Dawn Chmielewski; Forbes Staff

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Walmart Sues Tesla Over Solar Panels That Allegedly Caught Fire

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Topline: Walmart is alleging in a lawsuit that Tesla solar panels caused fires on the roofs of seven Walmart stores, and is accusing Tesla of breach of contract, gross negligence and failure to comply with industry standards. 

  • Walmart claims that Tesla installed faulty solar panels that eventually spontaneously combusted and caught fire at seven Walmart stores around the country.
  • The lawsuit alleges that Tesla inspectors didn’t notice defects that were visible to the naked eye, used cable connectors that weren’t compatible with one another and failed to see that loose and hanging wires were present at multiple sites.

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  • Walmart says in the lawsuit it believes the failures were the result of rushed installation because Tesla’s solar division “adopted an ill-considered business model that required it to install solar panel systems haphazardly and as quickly as possible in order to turn a profit, and the contractors and subcontractors who performed the original installation work had not been properly hired, trained, and supervised.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.

Key Background: Tesla got into the solar business after it acquired SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion. But production of its residential solar panels under Tesla has been mired with delays and plunging sales. 

Just this week, CEO Elon Musk announced a revamped pricing plan in an effort to boost the slowing business. The new pricing model allows residents in six states to rent solar power systems starting at $50 a month ($65 a month in California) instead of buying them up front.

Further Reading: Read the full lawsuit here.

-Rachel Sandler, Forbes


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How To Cut The Cord: The Top Smart TVs For Streaming 2019

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Freeing yourself from the shackles of cable or satellite television is easier to do than you might think, especially if you have a smart or connected television.

Smart TVs have integrated internet and interactive features that allow users to stream music and videos, browse the Web and view photos. Almost every new high-end television sold within the last two years or so has smart capabilities. So how do you choose?

If you want to take advantage of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and more, then look at these television sets.

LG C9 OLED 65-inch TV
Best smart TVs
On the streaming front, it provides a single place to browse and search for TV shows and movies from apps like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue, and more. LG

In addition to a beautiful, detailed picture and a big soundstage, this 4K OLED sports cutting-edge connectivity, including an HDMI 2.1, and a comprehensive feature set including both Google Home and Amazon Alexa built in. It also comes with Home Dashboard, a new tool that turns the set into the central control hub of all your connected home devices—from doorbell cameras to smart thermostats to appliances like a washing machine or a stove.

On the streaming front, it provides a single place to browse and search for TV shows and movies from sites such as Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue, and more. It also lets users rent, purchase and watch TV shows and movies from Apple’s iTunes store.

Vizio 55-inch M-Series Quantum
Best smart tVs
This Vizio is equipped with updated SmartCast 3.0 software includes support for Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit, making it just as suitable for iOS users. VIZIO

At under $700, the 55-inch M-Series Quantum offers a serious value in the smart TV arena. Not only does it deliver an excellent picture and sound, but it is also equipped with updated SmartCast 3.0 software, which includes support for Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit (making it just as suitable for iOS users).

The update also has a more vibrant selection of locally installed apps, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and Vudu. Thanks to a partnership with PlutoTV, the Vizio also offers a dedicated streaming channel called WatchFree, which gives you a TV-watching experience with more than 100 free channels, including sports, news, cartoons, and movies. You can also pair the set with an Amazon Echo device for voice control with Alexa.

Sony Master Series 65-inch A9F OLED TV
Best Smart TVs
This 65-incher also comes with Google Assistant capability, which lets you search for content, find online information, use online services and even control smart-home devices.SONY

If money is no object and you want a TV with loads of features, an incredible picture and terrific sound, go with the Sony A9G. The A9F is one of the first Sony Android TVs to ship with the newest version of its smart OS. The most notable names in video are preloaded, including Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV, Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV,and YouTube. For music, Google Play Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Tidal and a slew of internet radio stations.

This Sony 65-incher also comes with Google Assistant, which lets you search for content, find online information, use online services and even control smart-home devices. 

TCL 43S517 Roku Smart 4K TV
Best smart TVs
The Roku TV interface is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with big square tiles for all your apps and streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. TCL

Great things can come in packages costing less than $400. Not only will you get a terrific picture, robust sound and a slew of genuinely exciting features, this TCL 43-inch model sports Dolby Vision HDR, Dolby Atmos audio support and integrated Roku voice search.

The Roku TV interface is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with big square tiles for all of your apps and streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. There are also apps for major broadcasters, major sports leagues, and premium channels such as HBO and Showtime. Of particular interest to cord-cutters will be support for Sling TV, which provides a cable-like experience without the expense of a cable subscription.

Insignia 43-Inch 4K Fire TV Edition
Best Smart TVs
This under $300 43-incher offers most of the apps you’d expect, like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as Amazon Prime Video. INSIGNIA

Amazon finally seems to have a Fire TV that can compete with the Roku-powered smart sets. This 4K television with HDR support is packed with features for the Amazon faithful, with Alexa voice interaction built-in, Amazon’s huge selection of Fire TV apps, and a smart TV experience that puts Prime Video centerstage.  

This 43-incher costs less than $300 and offers most of the streaming apps you would expect, such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as Amazon Prime Video. Plus, Fire TV will soon get an official YouTube app packed with services such as YouTube Kids, YouTube Music and (most critical for cord-cutters) YouTube TV.

-Chuck Tannert, Forbes

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Multi-Disciplinary Education In The 4IR Era

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There is an adage that states “if you want to know the future of a nation, study the behavior of its teachers”.

The most potent force for political, economic and social progress in society is education. The measure of how great a nation will rise is determined by how many people in its population are educated. The African continent today has a total purchasing power parity gross domestic product (GDP) of $6.7 trillion, and a population of 1.2 billion people.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in 2016, sub-Saharan Africa had a literacy rate of 76% compared to 89% in South and West Asia, 87% in the Arab states and 98% in the developed nations.

This literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa is far from adequate, and calls for urgent and practical action to improve it.

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We are living in an era characterized by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) where technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are changing all aspects of our lives. Factories are automating. Because of these changes, the nature of work is changing.

Many jobs are disappearing altogether, and new types of jobs are being created. For example, we now have jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, such as Data Scientists. AI is now able to diagnose severe diseases such as pulmonary embolism, epilepsy and leukemia complementing the work of medical professionals. Because of the rapid automation in the medical field, doctors today require an in-depth knowledge of technology.

These changes in society because of 4IR require new sets of skills. Are our education systems ready to capacitate our people with the requisite skills to tackle the problems of 4IR?  Do we have enough teachers at all levels of our educational systems to be able to give our people skills that will make them useful in the 4IR era? Do we have enough educational institutions to be able to skill our people? Unfortunately, the answers to these two questions are in the negative.

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Given that we do not have enough teachers nor educational institutions to provide a critical mass of our people the requisite capabilities that will help them survive in the 4IR, what is to be done? One way of tackling this problem is to take a lesson from the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who realized that for India to thrive in the 20th century, it needed to invest in elite technical education. In this regard, he introduced the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).

Nehru had this to say in 1956 at the first convocation address of the first IIT in Kharagpur, a city in West Bengal: “…Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India.”

It is vital that African countries create a few elite institutions that will drive the African continent into the 4IR. The Pan-African University supported by the African Union is a good start, but we can do more.

Additionally, these elite institutes should not be limited to higher education only but must also focus on primary and secondary education. One example in Johannesburg is the African Leadership Academy (ALA), which targets gifted 16-to-19-year-olds. Today, the ALA has alumni from 46 different countries making an impact on the political, economic, and social aspects of the African continent.

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For us to thrive in the 4IR era also requires our educational experience to be multi-disciplinary. In our limited institutions of higher learning, students enrolled for programs in the human and social sciences must also study technological subjects.

Those enrolled in technological programs must study human and social subjects. Technological subjects should focus on the issues that confront the African continent, such as affordable and appropriate technology, limited and incomplete data, and cost-effective manufacturing.

The human and social subjects should focus on the urgent issues facing Africa today, such as social cohesion, connectivity, stability, conflict and unity. Due to the limitations of physical infrastructure and good teachers, African countries should pull their resources together and invest in online platforms to facilitate education through modern techniques such as blended and augmented learning.

The outcome of the education system, whether at primary, secondary, or tertiary levels, should be logical, numeracy and verbal skills. These skills will give our people the capacity to tackle the challenges of the 4IR such as coding, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and decision-making. 

– Tshilidzi Marwala is a professor, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg. He deputizes President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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