Disney reorganizes media, entertainment businesses to focus on streaming

“Mulan” was launched on Disney+ on Sept. 4.

Walt Disney Co.

Walt Disney Co. on Monday announced a strategic reorganization of its media and entertainment businesses to focus on streaming, sending shares higher in after-hours trading.

“We are accelerating more to a [direct-to-consumer] priority company,” Disney
Chief Executive Bob Chapek told CNBC in an interview minutes after the news was announced.

Under the restructuring, content creation will be managed in distinct groups: Studios, General Entertainment and Sports will be headed by current leaders Alan F. Horn and Alan Bergman, Peter Rice, and James Pitaro, respectively. The “Media and Entertainment Distribution” group will determine the monetization of content from all those sources and be led by Kareem Daniel, formerly president of consumer products, games and publishing for Disney. All five leaders will report directly to Chapek.

Streaming service Disney+, which has attracted more than 60 million subscribers since its November 2019 launch, has adopted a more aggressive approach to taking content direct to streaming amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Movies such as “Mulan” and “Hamilton” have debuted on the service instead of in theaters in the U.S., and last week, Disney said Pixar’s next animated film, “Soul,” will premiere on Disney+ on Dec. 25.

Services such as Disney+ are “where we see the world going,” Chapek said, adding that Disney will provide more details at its investor day Dec. 10 on how its reorganization translates into its business interests.

“I wouldn’t say COVID forced this action. It accelerated our transition,” said Chapek, who was vague when asked if the company’s actions would lead to layoffs. Disney announced 28,000 job cuts, many of them involving part-time theme-park workers, earlier this month.

Disney stock increased more than 4% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Disney shares have declined 13.6% so far this year as the pandemic has crushed many Disney businesses in the U.S., while the S&P 500 index
has gained 9.2% in that time.

“We have a positive inclination towards DIS’s increasingly all-in DTC strategy but given the potential for a bit of a sustained earnings drag we’re awaiting the 10 December details,” Wells Fargo Securities analyst Steven Cahall said in a note late Monday. Cahall has an equal weight rating and price target of $136 on Disney shares.

Disney’s move comes as media rivals such as Apple Inc.
Netflix Inc.
AT&T Inc.
Comcast Corp.
and Amazon.com Inc.
have doubled down on streaming services while millions of Americans are forced to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic.

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