Disney — the giant that owns ESPN, theme parks, cruise ships and studios — is restructuring. The company says it will focus its content production arms on streaming, through Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus.
It’s the latest media conglomerate to make on-demand content its priority, a trend that’s been accelerated by the pandemic. It means a lot more energy and resources will go into making movies and shows with at-home viewers in mind. And that will affect the product — and what goes on behind the scenes to make it.
Once upon a time, movies were movies, and TV was TV. But the line between them is starting to blur, said Derek Johnson, a professor of media studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Film and TV, maybe we need to ask are they all that different than we believe them to be,” he said.
Johnson said the pandemic is giving streaming platforms a chance to catch viewers’ full attention every evening. That has a lot of earning potential if the platforms can keep viewers coming back.
“So here I think the issue of curation is really important,” said Sarah Sinwell, professor of film and media arts at the University of Utah.
Disney Plus has a niche: family-friendly content. But so does NBC with its Hitchcock movies and Netflix with its Korean dramas. With so many streaming platforms out there, Charlotte Howell, a professor of TV and media at Boston University, expects companies to lean into their niches.
“We’re going to see more and more walled gardens of content. Instead you’ll have to sign up for each studio’s platform or platforms,” she said.
Notice she said platforms? Plural. Because Disney Plus has animation, ESPN Plus has sports, and Hulu covers everything else — and they’re all owned by Disney. Why not bundle them together and pitch it to the customer as a deal?
“And so probably what we’ll see is cable 2.0,” Howell said.
She added that we might even see different media companies shake hands and bundle streaming services across competitors. Cable 2.0 indeed.