Disney’s Kareem Daniel talks ESPN, Hulu and streaming vs linear biz

Disney’s Kareem Daniel talks ESPN, Hulu and streaming vs linear biz

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The television industry has been focused on the transition to streaming in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that the linear side is being ignored or neglected.

That was the message Thursday from Kareem Daniel, president of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, the unit that oversees all TV, film distribution and monetization within the Disney empire. Daniel was a keynote speaker at Variety‘s Entertainment and Technology Summit at 1 Hotel in West Hollywood presented by City National Bank.

“We’ve always focused internally on the variety of platforms we have in [Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution], or the variety of experiential touch points that we at the Walt Disney Company have with consumers — that’s no less of a priority now than ever before. And we connect these organizations in a way that, again, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” he said.

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“If you look historically at what the Walt Disney Company has done, we have surpassed and perhaps even led those industries, despite the… [changes] that may arise in the industries we participate in,” he added in his keynote talk with Cynthia Littleton, Varieties co-editor in chief.

ESPN has been making headlines lately as Disney has come under pressure from investors to consider a sale or spin-off of the sports powerhouse, while the traditional pay-TV ecosystem is feeling the pain of cutting cables. But ESPN is still a big part of Disney’s business and remains the most watched cable channel as well. Daniel acknowledged that there will be difficult long-term distribution talks with ESPN’s third-party cable partners. But the idea that Disney is giving up its linear channels — from FX to Disney Channel to Freeform — is misguided, he said.

A great example of how well Disney makes its linear and streaming assets work together is the new FX drama series “The Old Man.” The detective drama, starring Jeff Bridges, premiered June 16 on FX’s linear channel and was available for streaming on Hulu after midnight. The later episodes will also follow the same “non-cannibalistic” windowing process, he said.

“We’re actually reaching more segments of the audience than we would otherwise have done with just a streaming or linear component. And that’s the most important thing about DMED: we can look across all these platforms, and not at the expense of another,” Daniel said. “Essentially, we’re going to drive the growth of streaming. We have our goals, we are going to achieve those goals. But we can also have enormous success in networks and theatre.”

Daniel was elevated to his current position in October 2020, as part of the massive restructuring of Disney’s operations into two primary units: DMED for content and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products for its theme parks, cruises and consumer products. Daniel charted his path through the mouse over the past two decades, explaining how he made his first connection with Bob Chapek, who was division head and now CEO.

Daniel worked his way through the business strategy and business development teams. He worked with Chapek in distribution and consumer products, before moving to Walt Disney Imagineering in 2017 as president of operations. That job was the best preparation for managing the significant income-generating responsibilities he has today, Daniel said.

It was invaluable to “be in one of the most creative organizations in the Walt Disney Company in the world and really get a sense of the passion and heart it takes to create things that have entertained and entertained people for 50 years.” will entertain them for the next 50 years.” ,” he said.

Daniel was pressured over how content greenlights and cancellations will be handled within Disney in the new structure, given the split between DMED and the content production groups led by Dana Walden on the TV side and Alan Bergman in film. Daniel said it was a collaborative process informed by data and insights, as well as the needs of the many individual platforms Disney has, linear and streaming.

Daniel noted that he was in a similar situation when he headed the business side of the Imagineering group.

“This experience gave me more insight and preparation for this role than I imagined because I was in a creative group and another group was making the business decisions,” he said.

“I learned a lot about a creative process,” added Daniel. “But I could also understand what it’s like not to have control over the ultimate business decisions. So you’re fast-forwarding to this new organization that turns two years old next month… There are incredibly talented content teams that make things that entertain people all over the world. I feel like I kind of understand what it’s like to spend time in a creative organization without that ultimate authority, where I know that collaboration is absolutely crucial. You can’t run a business without having a real appreciation and connection to that creative group.”

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