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Walt Disney Europe Boss on ‘The Lion King,’ Streaming, Film, TV

Walt Disney Europe Boss on ‘The Lion King,’ Streaming, Film, TV

The Walt Disney Co. has put much effort into getting its creative juices flowing again since Bob Iger’s return as CEO and recently fending off a challenge from dissident shareholder Nelson Peltz. In fact, the Hollywood conglomerate is focused on ensuring its status as a producer of hit content that can form long-running and deep “connections” with consumers, with its portfolio of businesses across platforms and experiences helping create lasting fan engagement with franchises over a lifetime and across generations.

That was the message sent by Jan Koeppen, the entertainment giant’s Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) president, at Deloitte’s Media & Telecoms 2024 and Beyond Conference on Tuesday as he shared his take on what makes the company “stand out in an industry that’s always competitive and always changing.”

His conclusion: “These differences have served us well over the past 100 years. And they set us up for continued growth in years to come.” The executive then pointed to The Lion King as a key example of this Disney advantage in creating “epic stories and characters that don’t just stand the test of time, they grow over time and become part of the culture.”

Other examples he cited include “timeless Disney classics like Peter PanBeauty and the Beast, or Moana,” the “epic saga of Star Wars, expanding to encompass not just movies, but TV series like The Mandalorian,” and, “underscoring the breadth of Disney’s content, there is a different kind of epic storytelling from Marvel Studios.”

While some critics have expressed concern about franchise fatigue among fans, the Disney EMEA boss was bullish on hit characters when managed well. “What all these examples show us is that the best, most loved stories and characters can endure for many years. They open up the possibility of new adventures and of connections with new generations,” he said.

Koeppen on Tuesday also cited the upcoming summer movie Deadpool & Wolverine as examples of Disney’s franchise power. Launching in cinemas in July, the latter has already attracted more than 365 million trailer views, giving it the most-viewed movie trailer of all time.

Meanwhile, The Lion King is a perfect example of storytelling that benefits from the breadth of the Disney business, ensuring many touchpoints with consumers, from cinemas and linear channels to streaming and other forms of distribution, Koeppen argued. It may already be 30 years since the original Lion King film was released, but Disney will have Mufasa: The Lion King in cinemas this December, while its West End stage show celebrating its 25th anniversary has drawn 20 million visitors so far. In addition, the Lion King franchise also includes experiences in Disney theme parks, consumer products, and a presence on Disney+, among other things, he noted.

The executive on Tuesday also highlighted Disney’s long-term commitment to the U.K. and broader EMEA region, arguing that the company is focused on working with its partners, including creative, distribution and marketing partners, to best achieve its goals. Koeppen expressed confidence about Disney’s position in the U.K. and EMEA, predicting continued growth.

A video screened before his appearance emphasized that over the past five years, Disney has spent £3.5 billion ($4.5 billion) on U.K. production, supported more than 32,000 U.K. jobs, made 29 feature films, 41 shows for TV and Disney+, as well as 90 shows for National Geographic in the country, along with 17 theater productions.

He also made a point to emphasize Disney’s commitment to the theatrical film window despite the rise of streaming. “This starts with our belief in the importance of theatrical distribution. Everyone at Disney loves movies, and we love to make them big,” Koeppen said. “Audiences seem to like it too. In fact, since the very beginning of movie making, no fewer than eight of the 10 highest-grossing movies are Disney titles.”

Overall, box-office success “has a positive effect across the rest of our portfolio,” the executive highlighted. “And this goes beyond the screen to include live events, consumer products and theme parks.”

As streaming has accelerated cord-cutting, Koeppen on Tuesday signaled Disney still was a believer in traditional TV networks. “After theatrical release, our approach to distribution, for movies and TV series, will vary title-by-title and market-by-market,” he said. “Our linear networks are an important part of this mix. The evidence tells us that people are still watching plenty of broadcast television across genres, including entertainment, factual, and drama.”

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Content licensing has been all the rage in Hollywood thanks to the success of the likes of Suits after conglomerates’ initial streaming strategies focused on keeping all content to themselves in a walled-garden approach. Koeppen tipped his hat to that change in strategy, noting that “we license some of our content in later windows to partners, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and UKTV.” He explained: “Not only does this generate revenue, it also helps to build awareness of key titles. We believe strongly that the breadth of our business is a key source of advantage. It brings strength, resilience, and opportunity.” 

Of course, streaming also featured prominently in his keynote appearance. Disney’s EMEA president told the Deloitte conference that streamer Disney+, four years after its launch, has tens of millions of customers in 85 countries across the region. And he shared some data points that may surprise people. Among them was the fact that around half of the Disney+ EMEA customers are households without children and that general entertainment programming represents about two-thirds of the total hours watched on the streamer in the region.

Shōgun has become the most-viewed general entertainment series premiere ever in the EMEA region, Koeppen noted, adding that U.K. original Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story ranks second only to The Kardashians as the streamer’s most-watched unscripted series in the U.K. One final data point shared by Koeppen: the average Grey’s Anatomy viewer has watched more than 120 hours of that show on Disney+.

Disney‘s latest quarterly earnings report in early May and management’s conference call had much for Wall Street to like, including progress toward reaching streaming profitability and an increased full-year earnings forecast.

Koeppen signaled more streaming improvements ahead, without sharing details on Tueaday. “Disney+ will play an even bigger part in Disney’s future, and we have plans to keep making the service even better,” he said.

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