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Disney’s Upfront Spotlights ESPN And Hulu

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TV upfront week is in full swing. And after Amazon’s first-ever upfront event, the competitive air is palpable.

During Disney’s upfront event on Tuesday, just hours after Amazon’s, the Mouse House couldn’t hold back on pitching its content and advertising prowess.

CEO Bob Iger addressed the audience to kick off the event, his first upfront appearance since 1994, when he was president of ABC at NBCUniversal. Iger said Disney’s continued success hinges on maintaining its status as a “creative engine” that attracts not just viewers but brands. Then Rita Ferro, president of global advertising, shared fresh stats to prove Disney’s value to advertisers.

Conveniently for Disney, Nielsen released a first-ever ranking of top media companies based on viewing time across streaming, broadcast and cable (also on Tuesday). Disney ranked No. 1, with 11.5% of total TV viewing time in the US. (YouTube was second, with 9.6%.)

With that stage setting, Disney turned its attention away from ads and toward an extensive lineup of shows across Disney+, Hulu and ESPN, along with celebrity cameos.

Disney’s sports strategy

Disney increasingly leans on Hulu and ESPN to bolster its reach by bundling its content. ESPN in particular thrives on bundling.

At least half of Disney’s stage time featured sports – not unlike Amazon’s.

Disney touted its sports lineup, which includes the NFL, the NCAA, the WNBA, several college football leagues and the NFL. Football star Jason Kelce came onstage to promote the next season of Monday Night Football on ESPN, which recently appointed Kelce as a new analyst and commentator for Monday Night Football pregame shows and seasonal playoffs. (Take that, Prime Video.)

And Disney’s emphasis on ESPN is, in part, a subscriber growth strategy. ESPN has seen considerable growth since resolving its carriage dispute with Charter last fall, which made Disney+ and ESPN+ available on certain Spectrum cable plans. As a result, more people are signing up for ESPN+, and advertisers are following.

“Advertiser support for ESPN” keeps growing, Ferro said, because more people are watching sports on the channel.

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Later this year, Disney will add ESPN to the Disney+ app, similar to its recent integration of Hulu. And next year, it will launch a standalone ESPN+ app.

Disney also plans to make ESPN content available as part of its sports-focused streaming venture with Warner Bros. Discovery and Fox, although execs didn’t discuss this partnership during the upfront as expected. Neither did Fox.

Content, content, content

That covers sports. So, what about everything else?

Disney’s plan to feature Hulu in its content and advertising has required it to reposition itself as a media company with as much adult humor as family-friendly storylines. That could be why Disney replaced Rita Ferro’s walk-on song with a custom clip of “Family Guy,” featuring Ferro as herself talking about Disney.

Disney also spent time previewing raunchy shows and horror-themed titles, including “Dying for Sex” and “American Horror Story.”

And, of course, Disney tried to outdo its competition by putting as many well-known celebrities and TV stars on stage as possible. Kim Kardashian, Emma Roberts, Ryan Seacrest, Jimmy Kimmel and Selena Gomez all took to the stage at some point within the two-hour event. (Plus, Danny DeVito in the audience.)

Stay tuned to see how the rest of the competition squares up.

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