Disney unveils flurry of new programming amid rapid streaming growth

December 11, 2020 - 10:20 AM
A Baby Yoda toy is pictured during a "Star Wars" advance product showcase in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 20, 2020. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri/File Photo)

LOS ANGELES — Walt Disney Co on Thursday announced a heavy slate of new productions for its streaming services including Marvel and Star Wars series on Disney+ and programming from reality fan-favorites the Kardashians for Hulu.

The aggressive push coincided with news of fast growth for Disney+, which hit 86.8 million subscribers and nearly reached its most ambitious 2024 goal. The global coronavirus pandemic forced consumers to shelter at home and made them desperate for entertainment.

The media conglomerate said it plans to release 10 new TV series in the Marvel and Star Wars franchises over the next few years. Another 15 live-action Disney Animation and Pixar shows and 15 Disney Animation and Pixar feature films will be available on the streaming service.

Customers should expect something new every week, executives said in a presentation to investors.

The company announced new programming for Hulu and Star, a general entertainment service it will launch overseas in February. This will include content from the popular Kardashian family, which this year announced it was ending its long-running reality show on NBCUniversal’s E! network.

Disney shares rose 4% in after-hours trading during the presentation.

The U.S. entertainment industry has raced to catch up to Netflix Inc this year. Disney, AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal restructured operations to focus on streaming video services.

Launched a year ago, Disney+ is helping Disney close the gap quickly. Including Hulu and the ESPN+ sports streaming services, Disney has about 137 million subscribers.

Netflix, which pioneered streaming in 2007, had 195 million paying subscribers at the end of October.

Shares of Netflix slipped 0.6% during Disney‘s presentation.

Hollywood is closely following Disney‘s plans a week after AT&T Inc’s Warner Bros upended the film business by saying it would debut all 17 of its 2021 movies on its HBO Max streaming service on the same day they hit theaters.

Cinema chains are unhappy about losing the window when they can screen movies exclusively in theaters before films hit streaming services.

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc, Cineworld Group and Cinemark Holdings Inc are watching to see if Disney, the box-office leader last year, plans big changes to the slate of movies it has set for theaters.

Disney and other studios previously moved some films to streaming when the coronavirus pandemic closed many cinemas.

Hollywood trade publications have reported that Disney has considered shifting the release of live-action movies including “Pinocchio,” which stars Tom Hanks as Geppetto, as well as “Peter Pan & Wendy,” to Disney+ from theaters.

Disney+ has been boosted by the popularity of “The Mandalorian” TV series, a “Star Wars” spinoff featuring the character popularly known as Baby Yoda.

On Thursday, Disney said it planned two spinoff series, “The Rangers of the New Republic” and “Ahsoka.”

“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins will also direct the next Star Wars theatrical film “Rogue Squadron” expected to arrive by end of 2023. —Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Kenneth Li and Cynthia Osterman