Nov 1 1997


(From “The Global Media Giants,” by Robert W. McChesney, Extra!, November/December 1997)

$24 billion – 1997 sales

Disney is the closest challenger to Time Warner for the status of world’s largest media firm. In the early 1990s, Disney successfully shifted its emphasis from its theme parks and resorts to its film and television divisions. In 1995, Disney made the move from being a dominant global content producer to being a fully integrated media giant with the purchase of Capital Cities/ABC for $19 billion, one of the biggest acquisitions in business history.

Disney now generates 31 percent of its income from broadcasting, 23 percent from theme parks, and the balance from “creative content,” meaning films, publishing and merchandising. The ABC deal provided Disney, already regarded as the industry leader at using cross-selling and cross-promotion to maximize revenues, with a U.S. broadcasting network and widespread global media holdings to incorporate into its activities.

Consequently, according to Advertising Age (8/7/95), Disney “is uniquely positioned to fulfill virtually any marketing option, on any scale, almost anywhere in the world.” It has already included the new Capital Cities/ABC brands in its exclusive global marketing deals with McDonald’s and Mattel toymakers. Although Disney has traditionally preferred to operate on its own, C.E.O. Michael Eisner has announced Disney‘s plans to expand aggressively overseas through joint ventures with local firms or other global players, or through further acquisitions. Disney‘s stated goal is to expand its non-U.S. share of revenues from 23 percent in 1995 to 50 percent by 2000.

Historically, Disney has been strong in entertainment and animation, two areas that do well in the global market. In 1996 Disney reorganized, putting all its global television activities into a single division, Disney/ABC International Television. Its first order of business is to expand the children- and family-oriented Disney Channel into a global force, capitalizing upon the enormous Disney resources. Disney is also developing an advertising-supported children’s channel to complement the subscription Disney Channel.

For the most part, Disney‘s success has been restricted to English-language channels in North America, Britain and Australia. Disney‘s absence has permitted the children’s channels of News Corporation, Time Warner and especially Viacom to dominate the lucrative global market. Disney launched a Chinese-language Disney Channel based in Taiwan in 1995, and plans to launch Disney Channels in France, Italy, Germany and the Middle East. “The Disney Channel should be the killer children’s service throughout the world,” Disney‘s executive in charge of international television states.

With the purchase of ABC‘s ESPN, the television sports network, Disney has possession of the unquestioned global leader. ESPN has three U.S. cable channels, a radio network with 420 affiliates, and the ESPN Sports-Zone website, one of the most heavily used locales on the Internet. One Disney executive notes that with ESPN and the family-oriented Disney Channel, Disney has “two horses to ride in foreign markets, not just one.”

ESPN International dominates televised sport, broadcasting on a 24-hour basis in 21 languages to over 165 countries. It reaches the one desirable audience that had eluded Disney in the past: young, single, middle-class men. “Our plan is to think globally but to customize locally,” states the senior VP of ESPN International. In Latin America the emphasis is on soccer, in Asia it is table tennis, and in India ESPN provided over 1,000 hours of cricket in 1995.

Disney plans to exploit the “synergies” of ESPN much as it has exploited its cartoon characters. “We know that when we lay Mickey Mouse or Goofy on top of products, we get pretty creative stuff,” Eisner states. “ESPN has the potential to be that kind of brand.” Disney plans call for a chain of ESPN theme sports bars, ESPN product merchandising, and possibly a chain of ESPN entertainment centers based on the Club ESPN at Walt Disney World. ESPN has released five music CDs, two of which have sold over 500,000 copies. In late 1996, Disney began negotiations with Hearst and Petersen Publishing to produce ESPNSports Weekly magazine, to be a “branded competitor to Sports Illustrated.”

Disney selected holdings

The U.S. ABC television and radio networks; ten U.S. television stations and 21 U.S. radio stations; U.S. and global cable television channels Disney Channel, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNews; holdings in Lifetime, A & E and History channels; Americast, interactive TV joint venture with several telephone companies; Several major film, video and television production studios including Disney, Miramax and Buena Vista; Magazine and newspaper publishing, through its subsidiaries, Fairchild Publications and Chilton Publications; Book publishing, including Hyperion Books and Chilton Publications; Several music labels, including Hollywood Records, Mammoth Records and Walt Disney Records; Theme parks and resorts, including Disneyland, Disney World and stakes in major theme parks in France and Japan; Disney Cruise Line; DisneyQuest, a chain of high-tech arcade game stores; Controlling interests in the NHL Anaheim Mighty Ducks and major league baseball’s Anaheim Angels; Consumer products, including more than 550 Disney retail stores worldwide.