Disney is to close 18 TV channels in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong as the conglomerate puts a greater emphasis on direct-to-consumer streaming. The move will take effect from Oct. 1, 2021.
Many of the channels set to be shuttered joined the group less than three years ago as part of Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox. They include: Fox, Fox Crime, Fox Life and FX; movie channels Fox Action Movies, Fox Family Movies, Fox Movies and Star Movies China; sports channel Fox Sports, Fox Sports 2, Fox Sports 3, Star Sports 1, Star Sports 2; kids channel Disney Channel and Disney Junior; factual services Nat Geo People and SCM Legend.
Only four Disney-owned linear channels will survive the cull: Star Chinese Channel, Star Chinese Movies, National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild.
“As part of The Walt Disney Company’s global effort to pivot towards a D2C-first model and further grow our streaming services, the company is consolidating its Media Networks business primarily in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong. These efforts will help us align our resources more efficiently and effectively to current and future business needs,” said Disney in a statement announcing the closure.
Disney Plus hasn’t yet had a full roll-out in the region. But in Indonesia, where it launched in September last year as Disney Plus Hotstar, and Singapore, where it launched in February, the streaming service has been a hit.
Disney Plus is present in 59 markets worldwide and has surpassed 100 million paying subscribers in total. It has said that it expects to roll out in more markets in the region, but has only identified Hong Kong as happening this year. A buildup to a launch in Malaysia earlier this year was temporarily halted.
“Disney will continue to have a strong media and entertainment business in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong that includes our direct-to-consumer business, studio entertainment, consumer products, games and publishing business, serving consumers and partners alike in the region,” a company spokesman said.
The move could nevertheless have a disruptive effect on pay-TV platforms and sports in the region. Disney and Fox channels have been a large part of the offering of pay-TV subscription packages offered by the likes of SingTel and Starhub in Singapore and PCCW’s NowTV in Hong Kong. Their closure from October may mean a downward pressure on subscription prices.
Speaking at APOS last week, investment analyst Richard Greenfield said pay-TV bundles have already been undermined by corporate strategies that favor their own direct-to-consumer businesses over sales of programming through cable and satellite operators. “All [the things] that consumers care about isn’t in the bundle,” said Greenfield. He specifically noted that Disney is putting its best shows such as “WandaVision” on Disney Plus, rather than the Disney Channel.
Media research firm Parrot Analytics showed that in the second week of April, Disney Plus programming accounted for five of the six most watched shows in Singapore. These included: “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “WandaVision,” “The Mandalorian,” Disney/ABC’s “Modern Family” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
The closure of the five sports services may also have implications for sports rights deals and their owners. Among the channels’ key sports deals are those for Formula One and the Australian Open, U.S. Open, French Open and Wimbledon. Disney closed its sports channels in Taiwan in 2020.