Why Disney+ is going live
Photo: Thibault Penin/Unsplash

Why Disney+ is going live

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we’re taking a closer look at livestreaming on Disney+ and the end of Lightform. Also: An EWlogy (sorry, couldn't resist).

Next up for Disney+: Livestreaming?

Earlier this week, Disney ran a small test that may hint at big things to come: The subscription video platform carried a livestream of the Academy Awards nominations announcement.

Missed it? You’re not alone. The announcement also streamed on Hulu and the Academy’s own website, which means that the Disney+ audience for this particular livestream was likely fairly small. In fact, I, too, wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for an email from Disney’s PR department, which included the following statement:

"We performed a test for live streaming capabilities on Disney+ in the U.S. with this morning’s Academy Award nominations. We are pleased with the results and will continue to test as part of our ongoing and iterative approach to deliver the best user experiences to consumers.”

The test led to all kinds of speculation among industry insiders, who were wondering: Why did Disney test livestreaming on Disney+ if it already has so many other platforms for live video?

  • One possible explanation: The company is getting ready to abandon traditional TV and move some of its cable networks onto Disney+.
  • “People with no cable ... could just access Disney+ and select ‘Watch Disney Channel/ Disney Junior Live’ and just stick with it,” one pundit speculated.
  • Not too long ago, people would have called this crazy talk. However, last year, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced plans to close 100 TV networks around the globe in response to audiences transitioning to streaming.
  • Then again, Disney still has a number of lucrative carriage agreements with pay TV providers, which usually don’t allow the company to make the same feeds available outside of those bundles.
  • It’s more likely that Disney would copy the way Viacom, AMC and everyone else is doing streaming channels these days: Instead of taking a 1:1 copy of the Disney Channel, it could launch something new that sounds kinda, sorta like the Disney Channel’s online cousin.
  • The company could conceivably even launch multiple channels as a way to bring a lean-back experience to Disney+. How about a “Marvel Heroes Channel,” a “Disney Classics Channel” or a “Star Wars Channel?”
  • “I'd really like to see Disney+ incorporate some linear channels centered around brands and shows and even Hulu and ESPN+ content,” tweeted online video consultant Kirby Grines.

All of that is not really live programming, though. If Disney wanted to test channels, it would test channels, and not stream a live event in real time.

  • My guess is that the test was more about laying the groundwork for true live events.
  • This could include marquee events, like awards shows and live TV musicals, or livestreams associated with existing Disney events like the D23 Expo.
  • There may also be room for smaller exclusives that speak to dedicated fan audiences. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people love cast reunions, even if conducted over Zoom.

Ultimately, live programming could become one more way for Disney to extend the life of its franchises, something that Disney+ has already been doing very well. MCU fans, for instance, are already getting a bunch of Disney+ shows to tide them over until the next blockbuster arrives in theaters. In the future, we may see live programming as a key part of that puzzle.

— Janko Roettgers

Lights out at Lightform

Projection mapping startup Lightform, which set out to turn every surface into an interactive display, is shutting down. The San Francisco-based company announced on its website this week that it had “discontinued all hardware production” and was winding down operations over the coming months.

Lightform had produced both an all-in-one projector that was capable of turning surfaces into interactive displays and a modular kit consisting of a Logitech camera and a small computer to bring the same features to existing projector setups. The company had also developed its own projection-mapping authoring software, and was exploring ways to miniaturize its technology to integrate it into lamps and other household items.

Lightform blamed the shutdown on the pandemic and the impact it has had on live events and location-based entertainment. “As COVID dragged on, cutting costs wasn’t enough,” the company wrote in a blog post. “We simply needed more funding to maintain existing supply chains and to launch our new products.” Lightform wasn’t able to raise any additional funding, and will end support for its existing products and services in August.

— Janko Roettgers


Samba TV operates the world’s largest independent source of first party connected TV data helping brands, agencies and content owners to plan, buy and measure all in one place. The State of Viewership report offers the industry’s most accurate insights into television viewing and advertising engagement. Download the report at www.samba.tv

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In other news

Apple has acquired AI Music, a startup that — surprise! — uses AI to make music. The company’s website has been shut down, and there’s no word on what Apple may use the technology for.

Emerge’s CEO on building hardware for the metaverse. The company’s first device just went up on Kickstarter. Here’s the backstory.

FuboTV is testing three-month subscription plans just as people are trying to find ways to stream the Olympics. Oh, and the test is scheduled to conclude just days after the Super Bowl. That’s one way to increase retention I guess.

What everyone gets wrong about Joe Rogan. Nope, Spotify sticking with Rogan has nothing to do with Section 230.

Tubi streamed 3.6 billion hours of video last year. The Fox-owned free streaming service believes that ad-supported streaming will overtake subscription video this year.

Fire TV is doubling down on live channels. Amazon’s smart TV platform now integrates with 15 streaming services, and allows people to customize their programming guide.

"Lord of the Rings" rights are up for auction. Film/TV, merchandising and video game adaptation rights to the J.R.R. Tolkien saga are going on sale, according to Variety, with rights-holder the Saul Zaentz Company set to auction the properties for at least $2 billion.

Take-Two CEO says no to NFTs. Strauss Zelnick told Fast Company this week that the Grand Theft Auto publisher will “stay away from the speculative economy” for now, though he said NFTs and Web3 will likely play a big role in gaming down the line.

Epic won’t support Fortnite on the Steam Deck. Tim Sweeney shot down any hopes the handheld Valve console will run Epic’s battle royale, citing cheating concerns on the Linux platform powering the Steam Deck.


This week’s news that IAC is shutting down the print edition of Entertainment Weekly was not really a surprise to anyone who has paid any attention at all to, well, everything, but it’s still sad. EW has been an institution, and its death makes someone like me, who used to spend way too much time and money on magazines in general, a bit melancholy. I’ll also miss my kids saying things like “I read about it in the bathroom magazine” whenever a new movie trailer comes out (yes, we’re among the few households left with an active subscription).

But most of all, I’m disappointed that Entertainment Weekly isn’t going out with a bang. Many people were upset when the magazine switched from its weekly to a monthly cadence in 2019 without changing its title, but I thought it was ballsy, and a move worth repeating. If other magazines can publish their March issue at the beginning of February, why not publish a weekly magazine once a year? Or whenever George R.R. Martin gets around to write another book?

And now excuse me, I have to find a new bathroom magazine.

— Janko Roettgers


Samba TV operates the world’s largest independent source of first party connected TV data helping brands, agencies and content owners to plan, buy and measure all in one place. The State of Viewership report offers the industry’s most accurate insights into television viewing and advertising engagement. Download the report at www.samba.tv

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to entertainment@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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