Walt Disney is likely to gain more traction on Madison Avenue.
With an acquisition of a good chunk of 21st Century Fox, Disney takes control over many things it does not currently have. Its cable networks target families, kids, and young teens. Fox’s outlets go after people interested in big-swing drama and comedies at the FX Networks and non-fiction programming at National Geographic. And while Disney has developed savvy ways of weaving advertisers into programming, it has not been as vocal about new digital ad formats as some of its rivals — including ad-sales executives at Fox.
“It’s fair to say they are not considered as forward-leaning an organization,” Brian Wieser, a media-industry analyst with Pivotal Research, says of Disney/ABC. Meanwhile, ESPN has taken some dramatic steps in recent months, combining live viewership from streaming and linear TV into a single ratings number for ad clients.
But much could change once the Fox assets that Disney has purchased are placed into its mix. The five main FX and Nat Geo channels brought in more than $1.02 billion in ad sales in 2016, according to data from Kagan, a market research firm that is part of S&P Global Market Intelligence. At Disney, ABC, Freeform, and Disney XD snared more than $3.72 billion in the same time period, while ESPN captured nearly $2.11 billion (ESPN would likely not house any of the Fox entertainment assets). The Disney kids’ cable networks typically run sponsorships that are mixed in with Disney’s content, making regular ad sales more difficult to track.
The purchase would not make Disney the biggest media company in the sector in terms of number of hours of content watched, Wieser says. By his estimates, that distinction goes to NBCUniversal. But it would give Disney more scale at a time when TV companies are being outpaced by consolidation among cable and satellite distributors, all the while fighting off audience migration sparked by the availability of programs on mobile devices and streaming video.