Disney further paring down its international cable operations could signal big changes for its networks in the U.S.
The media giant is set to pull the plug this year on its remaining linear TV channels in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea. Just last month, Disney shut down cable operations in Vietnam, pulling The National Geographic channel, Nat Geo Wild, and Baby TV, according to VnExpress. Other at-risk channels include Star Chinese Movies, Star Chinese Channel, Star Movies, and Star World. Disney is also in talks to sell off its India assets.
The move comes after Disney struck a distribution deal with Charter Communications’ Spectrum that let it drop eight of its channels: Baby TV, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FXM, FXX, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Mundo.
That sets a precedent for other cable and pay-TV companies when seeking a new distribution deal with Disney. If the Mickey Mouse company wants to increase the cost for high-flying networks like ESPN, it may have to give up some of the smaller channels in exchange. It’s a reality Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged on the company’s earnings conference call last week.
“Having the opportunity to consolidate on the channel side is a good thing,” Iger said.
Taken all together, and the shutdown of those channels in Asia might just be the start of a trend, and not a one-off move.
Disney wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Disney is on a tight deadline to improve its profitability and bring its streaming services into the black as two of its key services, Hulu and Disney+, continued to combine for operating losses of $420 million in the fiscal fourth quarter. One way to cut its costs is to refocus its resources on streaming and moving away from lesser-used TV networks.
This also comes as Disney looks to introduce an integrated app that folds Hulu on-demand content into Disney+. A Hulu/Disney+ bundle could bring in as many as 150,000 subscribers over the next year and generate millions in revenue, people familiar with the situation told The Wall Street Journal.
Disney, which also faces pressure from an activist investor, has seemingly opened the door to bigger changes. Iger said last week that he was in talks to potentially partner with a big tech company on ESPN. He said earlier in the summer that TV holdings like ABC “may not be core” to Disney’s future, which prompted Byron Allen, CEO of Allen Media Group, to make a $10 billion bid for the assets. Disney, however, later said it wasn’t ready to sell.
But even if Disney isn’t making that big of a change, consolidating and removing some of its cable networks — especially in the wake of its Spectrum deal — seems highly plausible.