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Could Disney be the new Netflix?

For years, a question on many people’s lips in the entertainment industry has been “Who is going to manage to take on Netflix and win?” The list of companies that many hoped would be able to manage to not only get a foothold in the increasingly-lucrative Video on Demand market, but manage to turn that foothold into something much more longterm and permanent, has been long throughout the years, from big names to Apple and Amazon to less obvious suggestions like Walmart and Blockbuster. According to one new report, however, we’ve all been overlooking a major media player who might even have the infrastructure in place to move into the market already: The Walt Disney Company.

Todd Juenger, a business analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, believes that the only thing keeping Disney from being a major force in streaming content at this point is lack of desire. Describing the possibility for Disney to move into the area as a “hidden treasure,” Juenger wrote in a report to investors that “the time is ripe for Disney to re-imagine their sleepy SVOD service (Disney Family Movies) into a full-blown, premium Disney-branded SVOD service.”

For those unfamiliar with Disney Family Movies – I suspect that may be all of you who don’t have children – it’s a streaming video service that describes itself as “a subscription video on demand service for one very low monthly price: great feature movies, shorts, featurettes and bonus materials, at your fingertips.” In other words, the chance to see everything you’d get on a Disney DVD – including the special features, unusually for a streaming service offering – as an On-Demand offering from major television and cable providers (Instead of being available online, potential users are directed to contact their carriers to find out if the service is available for them).

The problem with Juenger’s prediction is that Disney’s offerings are currently tied up in a deal with Starz, which in turn makes their movies available to other VoD services, including Netflix. He has a simple solution to this problem: Break the Starz deal. “Full realization would likely require abandoning the Starz output deal,” he admitted in his report, adding that the potential earnings from a revitalized Disney Family Movies offering “would be easily superior” to the income the company sees from the current licensing deal. “At 12 million [subscriptions], DFM would add $475 million incremental operating income,” he explained.

The suggestion is a fascinating one, not least of all because it actually makes a fair amount of sense. Disney hasn’t made any noises about being concerned about this kind of plan in the past, but Disney Family Movies does provide an existing framework to build from, and with a bank of content that not only includes the animated Disney movies, but also ABC television content, Marvel Studios and Pixar, there’s a lot of reason for customers to sign up to such a service. Maybe it’s not such a crazy idea, after all.

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