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CEO outlines programming schedule for Disney streaming service to launch in 2019


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CEO outlines programming schedule for Disney streaming service to launch in 2019

Walt Disney Co.'s planned family-oriented streaming service at launch will showcase a combination of recent theatrical releases and new original films and series based on existing intellectual properties.

Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger discussed programming plans for the upcoming service, which will feature fare from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and ABC (US), during Disney's Aug. 7 earnings call. Iger told analysts that numerous original projects currently in production will be accessible via the streaming service's app, including the first live-action "Star Wars" series and fresh episodes of animated series, "Star Wars Clone Wars."

The company's "robust pipeline" for content will also yield original series based on such popular IP as Disney Channel (US)'s "High School Musical" and Pixar's "Monsters Inc.," as well as Marvel content.

On the theatrical side, Iger pointed to the live-action adaptation of Disney classic "Lady and The Tramp." The company's expansive 2019 theatrical slate also includes "Avengers," "Dumbo," "Captain Marvel," "Aladdin," "Toy Story 4," "The Lion King," "Jungle Cruise," "Artemis Fowl," "Frozen 2" and "Star Wars: Episode 9."

"None of those films are encumbered by existing distribution deals," Iger said. "So when we launch at the end of 2019, they will still have to be windowed in based on how we bring product to market, but the windowing will not be affected by existing licensing deals."

That is not the case for some notable properties like earlier "Star Wars" and Marvel entries that have been licensed to Netflix Inc., premium channel Starz and Turner in cable syndication.

Iger said there are "some windows down the road that enable us to put those films on our service ... But starting in 2019, the studio movie slate is clean and unencumbered."

Along those lines, he said the company wants to manage expectations in terms of initial content availability and said the "price of the service will reflect that." He declined to specify what the service will cost subscribers.

He acknowledged the service will not have "anything close to the volume of what Netflix has," but it wields the value of the aforementioned brands, and Disney's streaming products will add such franchises as "Avatar," "X-Men," "Deadpool," "The Fantastic Four" and "Planet of the Apes" if the transaction for myriad 21st Century Fox Inc. assets passes international regulatory muster.

"It takes time to build the kind of content library that we intend to build," Iger said.

Also as part of the pending 21st Century deal, National Geographic Channel (US) will become part of the Disney portfolio.

"We also like that its values are vital and relevant to a planet facing environmental challenge," Iger said. "Our goal is to support Nat Geo's expansion around the world and provide the additional resources required to position the brand as another major provider of [direct-to-consumer] content."

As to ESPN+, Iger said Disney's sports streaming service has delivered "encouraging" initial results since its April launch. "It's early days, but conversion rates from free trials to paid subscriptions have been strong and subscription growth is exceeding expectations."

Iger declined to quantify those expectations, characterizing them as "relatively modest. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Recent deals with UFC and Top Rank boxing have made the service "extremely attractive for fans of combat sports," said Iger, who also pointed out that ESPN+ will present more than 200 college football games this upcoming season, 70 over the first three weeks.

He also made note of the deal the company announced on Aug. 7: a multiyear, U.S. rights pact for Italy's top soccer circuit, Serie A, encompassing 340 matches on the streaming service, including the debut of former Real Madrid and Portuguese international star Cristiano Ronaldo in his first game for Juventus against ChievoVerona on Aug. 18. ESPN (US) linear networks also will air 40 Serie A matches annually under the pact.