With consumers increasing shifting their content consumption to streaming services, be it online or via mobile, we are seeing a number of moves by companies to position themselves accordingly. AT&T (T) is looking to buy Time Warner (TWX), Alphabet (GOOGL) is expanding the reach of YouTubeTV and Apple (AAPL) is hiring programming talent. Amid all of this, Disney scooped up key content assets of Twenty-first Century Fox (FOXA) this week, a long-time strategy of the House of Mouse, but it also acquired the controlling interest in stream service Hulu.
That extra nugget could radically change and potentially accelerate Disney’s already announced plan to launch its own set of streaming services, one for Disney content and the other for ESPN. We see this as a potential gamechanger that also adds our Connected Society tailwind to the Content is King company that is Disney.
The deal puts Fox’s movie studio, 20th Century Fox, under the Disney umbrella, bringing with it the studio’s intellectual property. Having 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men” and “Avatar” under the same roof as Disney’s “The Avengers” and “Star Wars” could have huge ramifications in both the streaming world and the film industry.
Disney announced in August that it will pull its content from Netflix, effectively ending its relationship with the streaming service to start its own in 2019. This means Netflix users will no longer be able to watch content from Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and Disney Animation.The deal between the two media giants means that Disney’s streaming service will include its own deep vault of intellectual property, as well as Fox’s decades of popular franchises, which would most likely get pulled from streaming competitors.
As much as this deal is about the content that Disney would be getting from Fox, it’s also about content competitors like Netflix would not.The deal also means Fox’s stakes in Hulu now belong to Disney, which already has an equal stake along with Comcast. With a majority stake in Hulu, Disney could change the award-winning streaming service’s offerings.
After days of speculation, Content is King champ Walt Disney (DIS) formally announced it was acquiring the film, television and international businesses of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA) for $52.4 billion in stock. Viewed through our thematic lens, Disney is once again expanding its content library, which means that finally the X-Men and other characters will be reunited with their Marvel brethren under one roof. As the inner comic book geek in me sees it, perhaps we will know get the X-Men movie we deserve.
While I only half kid about the comic book potential of the deal, the reality is the transaction expands Disney’s reach to include movies, TV production house, a 39% stake in Sky Plc, Star India, and a lineup of pay-TV channels that include FX, National Geographic and regional sports networks. Via a spinoff, Rupert Murdoch will continue to run Fox News Channel, the FS1 sports network and the Fox broadcast network in the U.S.
Viewing the combination through our Connected Society thematic lens, we see the move by Disney as solidifying not only its streaming content business but its streaming platform potential as well. Recently Disney shared that over the next few years it would launch its own streaming services, one for Disney content and one for ESPN, in order to better compete with frenemy Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN) and other streaming initiatives at Alphabet (GOOGL), Facebook (FB) and the burgeoning one at Apple (AAPL). Let’s remember these streaming services are all embracing our Content is King investing theme as they bring their own proprietary content to market to lure new subscribers and keep existing ones. We have previously shared our view that we are in a content arms race, and acquiring these Fox assets certainly adds much to the Disney war chest once the deal is completed in the next 12-18 months.
The added Connected Society benefit to be had in acquiring Fox is it ups Disney to a controlling interest in streaming service Hulu, which has roughly 12 million streaming subscribers and 250,000 subscribers for its new live TV streaming offering — the online TV package that replicates a small cable bundle. Hulu used to have three different bosses — Disney, Fox, and Comcast (CMCSA) — each owning an equal stake. Following the Disney-Fox deal, odds are Comcast’s role in Hulu will diminish and over time I would not be surprised to see Disney acquire that ownership piece as well. What this does is quickly lay a solid foundation for Disney’s streaming service plans, and I would not be shocked to see Disney convert Hulu into its own branded streaming service once the Fox acquisition closes.
From a thematic investing perspective, the Disney-Fox combination is a win-win on several levels, even though Disney is spending quite a bit of capital to get it done. The reality is there is no better company at monetizing its content and squeezing dollars from consumer wallets and in the coming quarters, Disney will have two very strong thematic tailwinds behind it — a more solidified Content is King tailwind and a burgeoning Connected Society tailwind keeping its sails full.
Near-term, this weekend is the domestic opening of the next Star Wars movie – initial reviews are very positive and advance ticket sales indicate a $200 million opening weekend or better.
- We continue to rate Disney (DIS) shares a Buy, and our long-term price target remains $125
Amid expanding markets such as digital commerce and streaming video that sit at the top of our Connected Society investing theme —and to some extent, our Content is King one — other growing markets and their opportunities can be stepped over and missed from time to time. One that I’ve been keeping tabs on from the periphery market is e-sports, but even I tend to sit up and take notice when the market for this form of content consumption is set to grow from $493 million in 2016 to $660 million this year, and more than $1.1 billion in 2019. That’s remarkable growth, fueled by a growing base of global enthusiasts, and one that is seeing Corporate America sit up and take notice as well.
That’s right, as amazing as it might sound, more than 20 years after the first video game tournaments, top e-sports tourneys now draw audiences that rival the biggest traditional sporting events. A decade ago, amateur competitions drew a few thousand fans in person and over the Internet. In October 2013, 32 million people watched the championship of Riot Games’ League of Legends on streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube — that’s more than the number of people who watched the TV series finales for Breaking Bad, 24 and The Sopranos combined; it’s also more than the combined viewership of the 2014 World Series and NBA Finals.
In 2015, Twitch reported more than 100 million viewers watch video game play online each month. According to the Entertainment Software Association, more than 150 million Americans play video games, with 42% of Americans playing regularly. The key takeaway from this litany of statistics is the e-sports market has continued to grow. And it is poised to continue doing so, as casual-to-serious players become tournament viewers.
In the last few months, streaming service Hulu has picked up four new series that are centered around e-sports as part of its move to replicate the success at Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN) in their push to create original and proprietary content. Another sign that e-sports are turning into a big business was at rating company Nielsen (NLSN) when it launched a new division focused on providing research on e-sports.
One of the opportunities being assessed by Nielsen lies in measuring the value of e-sports tournament sponsorships. In 2017 there are more than 50 such events, with recent and current e-sports tournament sponsors including Coca-Cola (KO), Nissan, Logitech (LOGI), Red Bull, Geico, Ford (F), American Express (AXP) and a growing list of others.
Tournaments streamed to everyone over Twitch.tv have reported five million concurrent viewers for Dota 2 and 12 million concurrent viewers for League of Legends. And these viewers tend to be the ones consumer product companies want — more than half of e-sports enthusiasts globally are aged between 21 and 35 and skew male. That’s the sound of disposable income you hear — and so do those sponsors.
The ripple effect is even moving past tournaments into movies and other content forms. Video game maker Nintendo (NTDOY) is reportedly near a deal with Illumination Entertainment, a partner of Comcast (CMCSA) to bring its flagship Super Mario Bros. franchise to the big screen. Granted Super Mario is not quite the same as some of the games associated with e-sports, but it is one of the most popular video game franchises of all-time, with the series of games selling over 330 million units worldwide. Over the last few quarters, we’ve seen a film hit screens based on the Assasin’s Creed game that was first released in 2007, and this leads us to think we could see more storylines developed much the way Disney (DIS) and 21st Century Fox (FOXA) are doing with the Marvel characters and Time Warner (TWX) with Batman, Superman, and other DC comics properties.
When I see a market taking shape like this, with these characteristics and all the confirming data points to be had, it means looking at which companies are poised to benefit from this aspect of our Content is King investing theme.
In this case, that means interactive gaming content ones like Electronic Arts (EA), Activision Blizzard (ATVI) and Take-Two Interactive (TTWO) among others. In looking at the industry data, we find a rather confirming set of data given the most recent monthly video game sales data for September published by NPD Group showed robust year-over-year sales, up 39% to $1.21 billion.
Breaking it down, software sales soared 49% due to the continued shift to console and portable platforms and away from PCs, and hardware sales rose 34% vs year ago levels. The top three games of the month were Activision’s Destiny 2, NBA2K18 by Take-Two and Madden NFL 18 by Electronic Arts. That set the stage for third-quarter 2017 earnings for these companies, especially given that in September Activision’s Destiny 2 became the best-selling game of thus far in 2017.
Recently, Electronic Arts shared on its third-quarter 2017 earnings call that among its growth priorities is the expansion of live services, which includes the integration of the company’s e-sports business across more gaming titles. As such, EA sees competitive gaming becoming a greater piece of its portfolio, as it builds on Madden NFL Club Championship, the first e-sports competition to feature a full roster of teams and players from a U.S. professional sports league. Tournaments to represent all 32 NFL teams are already underway.
Meanwhile on its September quarter earnings call Activision Blizzard confirmed its e-sports Overwatch League will begin regular season play on January 10, it has inked sponsorship deals with Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Intel (INTC) and the Overwatch community now spans more than 35 million registered players. The league has 12 inaugural teams complete with physical and digital merchandise for sale to fans.
We’ll be watching to see the initial reception as pre-season competition begins next month at the Blizzard Arena Los Angeles and we’ll be sure to crunch the numbers and understand what’s baked into existing expectations for ATVI shares and the others. Those answers will help determine how much additional upside there is to be had near term, following the meteoric rise of ATVI shares this year — up more than 75% year to date vs. 25.7% for the Nasdaq Composite Index and more than 15.0% for the S&P 500.
The race to replace broadcast TV with streaming services has become even more competitive with Hulu tossing it’s hat in the ring alongside the soon to be launched DirecTV Now from AT&T that is likely to benefit from the announced Time Warner acquisition. To drive viewers, it’s all about the content and increasingly proprietary content like we’re increasingly finding at Netflix and Amazon. While the Disney relationship brings ESPN into its fold, it sounds to us like Hulu needs to get that balance sheet going.
Hulu said today it has partnered with Disney and 21st Century Fox for its upcoming live TV streaming service, launching next year. The deals involve Fox’s news, entertainment, sports, and other properties, along with Disney’s portfolio of networks from is ABC Television Group and ESPN, among other things. In total, the two agreements will bring more than 35 TV networks to Hulu’s live TV service.What this means for consumers who are considering cutting the cord with pay TV is that they’ll gain access to two of the top broadcast networks, Fox and ABC, on Hulu’s new streaming platform.In terms of sports, the two deals will include Fox Sports networks (Fox Sports 1 and 2), BTN, ESPN networks, including ESPN1, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPN-SEC, and Fox’s regional sports networks in dozens of markets. Meanwhile, other popular cable TV channels will also be included, like Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Fox News, Fox Business, Freeform, FX, FXX, FXM, National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild.