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Disney wants streaming service to be big on brands, lower on volume

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Disney’s new streaming service will aim more for curated content than for a volume approach, said the company’s chief, Robert Iger, attracting customers with select high-profile properties rather than a deep bench.

“They’re in the high-volume game, but we don’t really need to do that,” the president and chief executive said of Netflix, Disney’s top digital rival. “Because of the specificity of [our] brands and their uniqueness, we don’t need to be” focusing on large numbers of titles.

Disney has been aggregating products and preparing a streaming service to head off inroads made by not only Netflix but also other streamers, which appeal to younger viewers who are shedding traditional cable subscriptions. The price “will reflect” the lower volume, Iger said, suggesting that the service will be less expensive than Netflix, which ranges between $8 and $14 per month. Iger made the remarks on a call with analysts for Disney’s third-quarter earnings.

The new streaming service, which will launch in late 2019, will center on high-impact titles from the likes of Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel, Iger said, mixing original and previously released titles. Many will be oriented toward families.

While some movies through 2018 will be tied up in existing licensing deals, the executive noted that the service can attract new consumers with releases from 2019 and afterward, including “Captain Marvel,” “Frozen 2,” a new Avengers film and other marquee names.

As for original content, he repeated previously announced titles such as a live-action Star Wars series while also noting “brand-new” Marvel content, without elaborating.

Disney’s streaming effort will include three separate strands of content — in addition to the new service, it will feature the recently launched ESPN+ as well as Hulu.

ESPN+ has been exceeding the company’s “modest expectations,” Iger said, as it has included boxing as well as a new docuseries from Alex Gibney about sports and technology titled “Enhanced.” He declined to give numbers but said he expected them to increase as baseball, hockey and college football begin coming online in the fall.

Hulu, the more mature-oriented service, will be nourished by its existing pipeline as well as new acquisitions FX and Fox Searchlight, Iger said.

“Our plan is to provide even more resources to support FX’s existing business,” he said of the “Atlanta” and “American Horror Story” network, calling it a “critical supplier” of its streaming platform. He did not mention the exit of key talent Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Horror Story,” for Netflix.

As for Searchlight, which has had a string of Oscar best-picture winners, including “The Shape of Water” and “Birdman,” he said: “It’s hard to argue that Searchlight needs help from anyone. Our strategy is to give the studio what it needs to support what it does best.”

Wall Street has been eager to see Disney beef up its direct-to-consumer offerings to compete with Silicon Valley players; the company bought Fox in part for that reason. Iger said that despite the importance of investment in these areas, he did not believe there was a time constraint.

“We don’t feel the need to rush,” he said. “Because the only place people will be able to get Disney-Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel product will be on this app.

"We want to make sure when we do launch, it will be attractive,” he added.