Will Disney Be Part of Apple’s New Video Streaming Service?

Tim Cook Eddy Cue Bob Iger Credit: Bloomberg (via The Information)
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While Apple is expected to unveil its new video streaming service later this month, Disney is also poised to launch its own Disney+ streaming service this spring, and while most reports have suggested that the entertainment giant primarily wants to go it alone, there has been some discussion about partnerships with other streaming services, including Apple’s as-yet-unannounced offering.

According to a new exclusive report by The Information, Disney is in the midst of internal discussions about whether it wants to partner with cable and online distributors. While some suggest that Disney should be able to trade on its name alone, others believe the move would help the service to reach an even wider audience, especially in the early stages.

According to people familiar with the discussions, the issue is still being debated internally, and the company has not yet even ruled out distributing through traditional U.S. cable companies in the hopes to getting a jumpstart on new subscriptions as well as reducing the competitive threat to the pay TV business that Disney relies on for its cable channels like ESPN.

However, while some executives are in favour of this approach, there is resistance within Disney’s upper echelons to the idea of continuing to rely on the cable companies for a service that aims to attract consumers directly. Some executives feel more comfortable with a partnership to market Disney+ through Apple’s streaming service as a more direct “add-on” element that provides a strong identity for the new Disney+ brand.

There is of course already precedent for this with Apple’s own set-top box and TV app, which already ties together almost 100 “channels” of content, providing a unified interface for browning and searching a wide range of content. The Disney+ service would already be a natural fit here, although in the present model, users still have to subscribe to each service individually.

While Apple’s plans are still not entirely clear, this need for individual subscriptions is one of the things that the company is hoping to change with its new streaming service, with a fixed-price subscription package that would include multiple premium television providers. Companies like Starz, CBC, Showtime, and Viacom are reportedly already on board, while Apple is still in talks with HBO and others.

There’s no indication that Disney is actually yet in talks with Apple, although the two companies have a longstanding connection at the highest levels. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has been Disney’s largest single shareholder since Walt Disney himself, and a member of the company’s Board of Directors up until the time of his death in 2011. Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger has also been a member of Apple’s Board of Directors since late 2011.

Still, business is business, and Apple’s insistence on taking its usual 30 percent cut from subscriber fees may affect Disney’s willingness to come on board. Apple has also traditionally shown a reluctance to make subscriber details such as e-mail addresses available to third parties — something the news industry has been complaining about for several years now — and sources indicate this is already a sticking point for Disney in seeking a deal with rivals like Amazon.

On the other hand, Apple can offer a significant amount of exposure for the new service, especially if it’s on board for a grand unveiling. An exclusive deal with Disney+ would also be a huge feather in Apple’s cap, which might persuade it to offer Disney more lucrative terms.

Sources say that Disney hasn’t even decided if it’s going to partner with anybody yet, and given the strength of its brand name, it may feel that it really can go it entirely alone. However, with many consumers beginning to suffer “subscription fatigue,” Disney will need to offer something especially compelling to convince people to sign up for yet another streaming media service, and this may be the area where Apple can offer Disney the biggest advantage of all by bringing it into a single subscription package with a collection of other streaming services.

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