2019 will be the year of the pig—except in the TV industry, where it will be the year of the Mouse. That’s because Disney is going to dominate 2019, bookending it with a pair of seismic moves. The first is the imminent close of the Disney-Fox merger, which will relocate most of 21st Century Fox’s assets (FX, National Geographic and the Twentieth Television studio among them) to the Mouse House; the rest, including Fox Broadcasting, Fox News and Fox Sports, will be spun off into a new iteration of Fox. Then there’s the year-end launch of Disney’s long-awaited subscription streaming service, Disney+.
Even with more than a year of preparation, the Disney-Fox merger will be a bumpy transition that will be felt throughout the industry as FX and National Geographic adjust to their new homes and bosses, and buyers adapt to a new method of purchasing that inventory. The same transformation (and consolidation) will occur at “New Fox,” where ad-sales operations will be combined for the entire portfolio under Marianne Gambelli.
And with more mergers likely in play next year (CBS-Viacom talks should reignite, and keep your eyes on companies like A+E Networks and AMC Networks, which could look to scale up), expect another business-as-usual upfront, with only incremental shifts in the way that business has been transacted for decades. Individual companies could gain some traction with new offerings (like NBCUniversal, whose acquisition of Sky won’t affect domestic business, freeing it to focus on expanding its CFlight unified advertising metric). But overall, publishers and marketers will be too preoccupied with adapting to post-merger shifts to spend much time on new bells and whistles—meaning that they’ll once again need to put off tackling critical industry issues like measurement and addressability for another year.
Then, at the end of 2019, Disney will make waves again with Disney+, the most-anticipated OTT offering since Netflix began airing original series six years ago. With a lineup that will boast original content from properties like Lucasfilm (multiple Star Wars series), Pixar (a Monsters Inc. show), Marvel (series based on Avengers characters Loki and Scarlet Witch) and other major Disney IP (a live-action Lady and the Tramp and a High School Musical series), Disney+ will be an immediate force to be reckoned with, more than any other fledgling OTT service in recent years. It should dwarf AT&T’s still-enigmatic OTT offering, also set for Q4—that company has yet to share any programming specifics—as well as whichever way Apple ends up showcasing its slate of originals, which has big names involved but no IP that can compete with Disney’s lineup.
The glut of new streaming services—which should also include Viacom, if it ever gets its offering off the ground—will be overwhelming for consumers, who may drop a current OTT service for Disney’s (CBS All Access? YouTube Premium?) or accelerate cord cutting to make room. And as Disney+ rolls out, look for Disney to sells its three streaming services at a discount—Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu, which it will have a majority stake in after the merger—in essence creating a new era of streaming bundle à la cable TV.
All of these new offerings will continue the erosion of linear ratings next year, which is bad news for the three broadcast networks with new chiefs: Fox (Charlie Collier, who will take over when the Disney deal closes), ABC (Karey Burke) and NBC (Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks). None is likely to reduce the annual ratings drops, though Fox has the best shot with its pivot into sports (Thursday Night Football and WWE’s Smackdown Live) and reality programming.
Meanwhile, looming over every broadcast, cable and streaming outlet, once again, will be Netflix, which looks to grow its subscriber base beyond 137 million as it floods the market with content (expect more than $10 billion of it in 2019) and snaps up more high-end talent, leading rivals to overspend to keep their stars and talent in the fold. As Peak TV continues and the number of scripted series soars past 500, there will be more TV options than ever next year, but the effort to fully monetize them will continue to frustrate the industry.