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The Streaming World of Disney

The last few years have provided a fascinating opportunity to watch how an innovative and creative company evolves through changing experiences and market expectations.  

Overwhelmingly, most companies fail to make it through the substantial pivots that require an enterprise to shift like a startup; a few thrive however, and it’s those few that we, in time, look back on in University classes and in books and articles, as the companies that transformed through evolutionary times and which helped change the world for the better.

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Disney, in recent weeks, announced such a change but, notably, it was a change announced but not necessarily fully realized by the general public.

Disney is not just changing with the times but purposefully restructuring to meet the future.

Disney’s Streaming Reorganization Cheers Investors … but Confuses Insiders

So announced Variety’s Matt Donnelly, Brent Lang, “Instead of dwelling on the fact that COVID-19 has depressed attendance at the parks it has been able to open in Asia, Europe and Florida, and left other venues such as Disneyland shuttered indefinitely, the narrative heading into Disney’s next earnings call is all about how they’ve doubled down on efforts to dominate the world of streaming.”

This is an organization only recently again known for shows in our home

Disney+ calls to mind for many, fond memories of the Disney Channel or Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color but by and large, Disney is considered a Film company with Theme Parks (All of which of course overshadows the fact that Disney is also ESPN).  Understandably, executives and fans were left a little perplexed by Disney’s clear affirmation that they were definitively now a streaming company first.

We profiled Disney’s work in media innovation just about a year ago, so news of this shift to streaming comes as a welcome change, albeit not much of a surprise to everyone.

“If you look at it from 30,000 feet, this wasn’t the tail wagging the dog, this is the revenue source that was wagging the dog,” shared Peter Newman, head of the MBA/MFA program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, with Variety, “Just as Disney’s stock went up, AMC said they’re going to run out of cash and Regal shut down. The system has been so broken and is so in need of a reconfiguration.”

Third Point hedge fund manager Dan Loeb, with a substantial stake in Disney, is pushing this vision; encouraging the company forgo a dividend to develop programming for streaming, “More money can be yielded by adding and retaining subscribers, who will in turn pay monthly fees, than through a one-time ticket sale.”

Disney is leading the way that few are yet following

What we’re seeing in demand for Zoom, today’s announcement of a major investment in HopIn, concerts in Fortnite, and podcasts, social media, and video pushing into live content, is that the world is racing at being an on demand, streaming experience.

“This reorganization will accelerate our growth in the dynamic direct-to-consumer space, which is key to the future of our Company. The new organizational structure, with content creation distinct from distribution, will enable us to be more effective and nimble in creating what consumers want most, and delivering it in the way they prefer to consume it,” wrote Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive officer. “Under this new structure, our Company’s world-class creative engines will be able to focus wholly on developing and producing great original content.”

Online -> Interactive -> Digital -> Omnimedia -> Streaming

A glimpse at the progression of the internet and the words used to characterize what it has done to the human experience, reveals how a company like Disney, is leading that way because they’ve leapt through the stages of what the internet has enabled.

In the late 90s, we were “online” and companies set up websites so as to be on the web.  Online marketing emerged and word reflecting an innovative organization was in that they too were online.   We all experienced a brief stint when that word shifted to being “interactive;” companies and developers sought to create interactive experiences and we started witnessing the boom of video games as a result.  And it was around 2005 that society and the economy witnessed the Digital Divide – those that know how to leverage the internet vs. those who don’t.  That time experienced a shift in our language from online or interactive, to “digital;” and Digital Tranformation became the en vogue phrase bantered about by the big consulting firms and ad agencies who offered to transform companies.   Of late, that word has been “omnimedia,” referring to how it’s well recognized (at least among innovative and successful companies) that they have to treat content and marketing as multi-channel and pervasive. 

The new word is streaming.

Multi-channel, pervasive, digital, interactive, online… as well as now and live.

Over the last several months, noted The Verge and Julia Alexander in a great look at this shift, that not only Disney, but NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia, and ViacomCBS have restructured their teams to make streaming a primary focus.

Disney is making streaming their business and yet an observation of why has, I think, gone missed; that Disney is shifting to be streaming not just because of the content and entertainment they produce but because the company has truly become a global organization.   A remote workforce, collaborating, producing, and streaming as a company, from throughout the world.

The Worldwide Work of Disney

Thailand, Germany, The United States, India, The United Kingdom, Japan, France, and the Netherlands, by way of a simple count, makes for 8 distinct countries spread throughout most continents, but that barely scratches the surface of the dozens of cities throughout those countries that are home to Tech, Studio, Office, Park, and other Disney locations.

That was the list of places working together that I’ve held in mind about Disney; that is, until June of this year, when the creator of one of Disney’s definitive streaming milestones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, author of the musical Hamilton, revealed on ‘Good Morning America’  that he had been spending his time in quarantine working with Disney to create a new animated musical taking place in Colombia.

Now, that doesn’t mean Disney is opening studios in Colombia but this will be the fourth Disney animated film to explore Latin American culture, after Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944) and The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), and with our attention turned to Colombia, I couldn’t help but notice how Disney was going to tell the story of a country which happens to be making their own incredible leaps in media innovation.

Thanks to MediaTech Ventures’ partners in Texas, our friends at ProColombia have laid an incredible foundation with which we’ve been able to connect to working with startups and companies in Colombia.

“Colombia is a hot spot for innovation, and it’s only getting hotter. With a resilient economy, creative talent and the backing of the government, Colombia offers entrepreneurs, tech companies and venture capital firms a vibrant ecosystem for growing their business,” said Francisco Santos, Ambassador of Colombia to the United States.

ProColombia is a government agency of the Executive Branch of the Government of Colombia in charge of promoting Colombian non-traditional exports, international tourism,  and foreign investment to Colombia.  They’re the entity in charge of promoting Colombian Exports, International Tourism, Foreign Direct Investment, and the Country Brand in the world.

MediaLab EAFIT comes to mind as one of a notable Colombian endeavor in mediatech, reflecting this leap in media innovation similar to the steps Disney has taken and coincidental (perhaps?) to Disney’s look at Colombia next for a story to share with the world.

Part of the department of communication studies at Universidad EAFIT, located at the university’s campus in Medellín, Colombia. MediaLab opened in 2009, with few resources, to explore “digital convergence,” right around that time in world history when “digital” was the theme. “This first iteration of the lab investigated virtual worlds (Second Life at the time) and emerging media formats, such as video blogs and live blogging,” shared Teemu Henriksson with World Association of News Publishers and WAN-IFRA’s Global Alliance for Media Innovation (GAMI). “The same year it started its own YouTube channel MediaLab TV, and launched projects exploring media literacy and transmedia storytelling.”

Thanks to its advances in competitiveness, economic environment, innovation and level of risk, Colombia is projected as one of the countries in the region with the greatest potential for attracting Venture capital funds,” stated Flavia Santoro, President of ProColombia. “The development of the Venture Capital fund industry in Colombia, coupled with a government that is committed to strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem, has allowed our country to climb in the ranking of the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association,”  

“We don’t think that technology per se is important. Rather, technology exists for people,” says María Isabel Villa Montoya, Coordinator of the master’s degree in Transmedia Communication at Universidad EAFIT. “So we work with real people on real problems to develop real solutions for them.”

One of those solutions underway in Colombia? 

In order to explore the highly complex ecosystem of media innovation, the MediaLab EAFIT is working to identify and categorize media labs globally. Currently its database includes over 150 labs classified according to activities ranging from research and training to product development and consultation.

That, a foundation of knowledge, of the places throughout the world, where work is being done in media to start streaming; not just what Disney is doing, but all that the world has to offer in education, entertainment, sports, remote work and collaboration, and information, to everyone, everywhere.

The future is one incredible, where Disney’s turn to streaming introduces us to the innovation, entrepreneurship, and sophistication in media, of a country like Colombia.

By the way, this week, today, is Trade & Investment Week for Colombia – Texas Business.

Developed by AmCham Colombia and The Office of the Texas Governor, Trade & Investment Week is still open for registration here.

Paul O'Brien

Silicon Valley technology and startup veteran, Paul O'Brien is affectionately known as SEO'Brien for an extensive past in the search industry. Today as CEO and Founder of MediaTech Ventures, O'Brien works in Venture Capital Economic Development, serving the investment and venture capital economies directly, through thought leadership, consulting, and startup development. More, a regional Director of the Founder Institute incubator and mentor in DivInc, Galvanize, and various startup Accelerators.

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  1. I didn’t. If only there was a way to make sure everyone was aware of everything going on in their sector… ?

    Joshua Stinehour, would love to see it (and share it?)

    Wim Van Roy, your thoughts on it??

  2. The article looks great! It’s the changing of the tides that requires more innovation and throughput from businesses on any scale. The article is not strictly about Colombia, but the article provides great insight on how the leading titan – Disney – is taking the bull by the horns to innovate, while passively advancing opportunities for businesses of any scale, like MediaLab. The potential derives from the will power from those companies who take initiative.

  3. No kidding about the difficulties in keeping current on sector developments.

    I will have to defer to the AWS EMEA team on the availability of the presentation, as I am not sure of the team’s VOD plans.

    As for Colombia, I echo the enthusiasm of the article. And I would add Disney’s Coco (2017) to the list of animated films exploring Latin American culture.

  4. Paul O’Brien It are very exiting times and what I was expecting to happen in 3 years from now is happing today. Cloud might not fix it all and it is for sure not a solution for everybody. I do believe we all will get involved in to it someway. If it is to scale up or create PoC’s vs replacing legacy workflows. Colombia is for sure a interesting country, when I did the first SMPTE 2110 IP Broadcast studio in Bogota, I was surprised they would go full IP vs legacy. They are for sure more modern than most people think. I would suggest to follow the Devoncroft Partners analyses for sure. Always interesting stuff.

  5. Wim Van Roy I’m intrigued by the subtle idea that everything is streaming: data, remote work, entertainment, events, education.

    It’s a bit of a shift in thinking about the internet but fundamentally, a website is streaming; granted, typically only written and static content but notionally it’s the same idea – that content is streamed to us all, on demand.

    Cheers on the suggestion of Devoncroft Partners

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