Earlier this summer, Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke out during an interview on CNBC about how linear television may not be core to the company’s business in the future, as they shift their focus to streaming services. This led to much speculation and reports that Disney was looking to possibly sell some of its linear channels, with Disney having meetings with Nexstar and even getting a $10 billion offer from Byron Allen Media for its linear business. Following the news of the $10 billion offer, Disney even put out a statement to deny the reports and that they hadn’t yet made a decision.
In September, Disney signed a new deal with Charter Communications, which saw several channels, including Disney Junior, Freeform and Nat Geo Wild, not restored to Spectrum cable customers, though as a replacement, they will eventually get the ad-supported tier of Disney+ instead. Other cable companies, including DirecTV, are also looking at this new deal and want something similar, to replace less popular channels with an ad-supported streaming service.
Recently, WSJ has revealed that Disney has been reviewing its linear businesses to determine which channels have long-term value and which are expendable. Disney Entertainment Co-Chairman Dana Walden ordered this review, which is being run by Debra O’Connell, who is the president of networks and television business operations.
The Disney executives have highlighted ABC, FX and the Disney Channel as the channels that have the most value to the company, because all of those channels produce content that is popular on its streaming services, Disney+ and Hulu. However, Freeform and National Geographic have been highlighted as less critical to Disney’s future.
The review explored potential sales of some of these channels and has also discussed selling some of the TV networks to A+E Networks, which Disney co-owns with Hearst. Apparently, this option was explored while Bob Chapek was the CEO of Disney and is being explored again.
The idea is that moving these networks to A+E would allow those networks to make better deals with cable companies and advertisers. And National Geographic channels fit in with the A+E channels like History, Lifetime, and FYI.
Earlier this week, Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke about the future of its linear business during a quarterly financial results investor call, saying:
Regarding our broader linear business, we continue to evaluate options for each of our linear networks with the goal of identifying the best strategic path for the company and maximizing shareholder value. However, our review of the business thus far has uncovered significant long-term cost opportunities, which we’re implementing while continuing to deliver high-quality content.
The idea of Disney selling Freeform shouldn’t come as a huge surprise since the channel has lacked any real identity for a long time, and while it produces some original programming, its core audience, younger teenagers and adults, has moved over to streaming services.
Moving National Geographic over to A+E Networks would obviously be a much more significant shift, since the brand was considered to be one of the highlights of the 20th Century Fox purchases and was one of the easiest brands to incorporate into Disney’s existing branding. Disney Stores and Disney Theme Parks have sections of their stores selling Nat Geo merchandise.
Disney has been heavily promoting the National Geographic adventure trips as part of its travel business, and for Disney+, National Geographic is one of the core five brands. The brand provides lots of original programming for Hulu and Disney+ and has won many major awards for the company.
However, years after the 20th Century Fox purchase, it now has much more data about how this brand performs across all its platforms. Are people watching the documentaries on Disney+ or Hulu?
Are enough people interested in documentaries? It certainly would be a huge shame to see Disney sell National Geographic to A+E, though it would technically still own half of it, so it could still take advantage of its brand and content, keeping the content available on Disney+. Even A+E has licensed some content to Disney+. However, it does feel a little bit like an accountancy bookkeeping shuffle to sell it to another company, that it owns part of.
The purchase of 20th Century Fox in 2019 for over $70 billion has caused major issues for Disney’s debt, and it is currently looking at selling multiple assets, including its Star India business, some of its ABC local networks and even part of ESPN (which is also co-owned by A+E). And with the upcoming purchase of the remaining stake in Hulu, Disney is looking to make more cost-saving measures to become a leaner and more focused company.
It’s worth pointing out, that this is only the result of an internal review, and nothing has been announced, nor confirmed. Disney might not necessarily make any changes to its linear channels. However, as the company refocuses its attention to the future, does National Geographic fit?
Even if Disney sold National Geographic to A+E, we might not necessarily see any content leave, but as one of my favourite hubs on the streaming platform, I can’t help but feel this feels like a perfect fit for Disney and gives them an established documentary brand to compete with Discovery or Netflix.
Do you think Disney should sell National Geographic to A+E? Let us know on social media!
Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom.