TV Upfronts

Disney Touts Scale, Sports and Storytelling at Upfront

New Nielsen data reveals that Disney has the highest share of total TV usage of any media company

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In its star-studded upfront presentation Tuesday evening, Disney executives and talent consistently returned to a key theme: The company’s reach and tech are unlike those of its competitors.

Among the highlights, Rita Ferro, Disney’s president of global advertising, said that one in two people worldwide now connect with a Disney property every day. Ferro also shared new Nielsen findings released earlier that day, which stated that Disney had the highest share of total TV usage of any media company in April.

“What I’ve learned from being at this company for 27 years is that Disney is unlike any other media company because of the emotional connection it has with people,” Ferro said. 

The emphasis on the scale of the Disney portfolio comes as the streaming ecosystem continues to build out its advertising audience. Similarly, the growing emphasis on profitability across the streaming sector has also pushed publishers to introduce bundled offerings. The combined effect has been a newfound emphasis on collaboration.

In February, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Fox announced their forthcoming streaming sports offering, and last week, Disney also teamed up with WBD for a bundle offering with Max, Disney+ and Hulu. Earlier Tuesday, Netflix announced the introduction of its own bundle, in tandem with Apple TV and Peacock, called StreamSaver.

While Disney would spend the majority of its upfront showcasing the breadth of new content—and new talent—coming to its platform soon, the unspoken catalyst behind many of its most important ventures was the newfound need for collaboration amid today’s viewing fragmentation.

“We are bundling, and while from the outside, this may look like an act of desperation, from the inside, it also looks like that,” Jimmy Kimmel quipped in his annual upfront roast.

New series and talent 

Throughout the event, Disney teased a broad slate of new original programming coming to its streaming services in the next year.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan revealed that Hulu will be diving into the comedy space, launching a monthly comedy special called Laughing Now. The initiative comes as Netflix has significantly expanded its own comedy repertoire, including the recent six-part John Mulaney live series, Everybody’s in L.A.

Another new series, High Potential, will star Kaitlin Olson of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the longest-running live-action sitcom on television. And two other debut programs—Natalia, starring Ellen Pompeo, and Paradise, starring James Marsden and Sterling K. Brown—will combine taut drama with bankable celebrity leads.

Outside of programming, the biggest additions to the Disney family were two of its new sports analysts. 

First, National Football League analysts Marcus Spears, Ryan Clark and Scott Van Pelt welcomed former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Jason Kelce to the Monday Night Countdown crew, winning the bidding war for the immensely popular podcaster and recent NFL retiree.

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Likewise, National Basketball Association analyst Stephen A. Smith announced that journeyman point guard Chris Paul would be joining ESPN as a guest analyst covering the Eastern Conference Finals. Before introducing Paul, Smith made a point to mention that his own show, First Take, has experienced 21 straight months of audience growth. 

Perhaps the majority of the upcoming slate of new programming, though, came from the extended Marvel and Star Wars universes. 

New Marvel series Agatha All Along and Ironheart will see popular characters—Kathryn Hahn reprising her witchy role from WandaVision and Dominique Thorne continuing her Black Panther 2 role of Riri Williams—given extended backstories and new villains. 

Meanwhile, a Wookie graced the stage to promote The Acolyte, the latest spinoff from the Star Wars universe that follows, across eight episodes, a crime spree that occurs 100 years before The Phantom Menace.

Key renewals

Across Disney and Hulu, several key franchises will see new seasons in the coming months.

Season three of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s Welcome to Wrexham was released last week, while season three of The Bear debuts June 27. 

This fall, Abbott Elementary will return for a fourth season, and the world will get its first glimpse of The Golden Bachelorette—the natural next iteration of its recent Golden Bachelor experiment.

And if you can call it a renewal, Selena Gomez graced the stage to announce that the show that made her a childhood star, Wizards of Waverly Place, will return later this year as Wizards Beyond Waverly Place. Gomez will serve as an executive producer on the series.

Professional and collegiate sports

Sports’ ability to reliably generate loyal audiences makes them the centerpiece of the streaming wars, a point Disney hammered home through its ESPN promotion.

This year, ESPN will air more NFL games than ever, with 23 regular-season matches and four playoff showcases. 

As for college football, NCAA legends Vince Young and Adrian Peterson joined Desmond Howard to preview the first year of a decade-long partnership between ESPN and the Southeastern Conference. 

With the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma joining the SEC this fall, ESPN will be able to host their storied rivalry game in October, and College GameDay will air outside of the U.S.—in Dublin, Ireland—for the first time in history.

Finally, women’s basketball, both professional and collegiate, was a highlight of the presentation. 

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley reiterated that 19 million people tuned in to watch the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship game, and that the recent Women’s National Basketball Association Draft broke viewership records as fans followed Caitlin Clark’s ascent into the pros.

Clark’s first game as a member of the Indiana Fever was the first non-animated live-sporting event shown on Disney+.

“Women’s college basketball is the story of the year,” said analyst Chiney Ogwumike. “And ESPN has been at the center.”

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