Disney Invents the TV Channel

We're working our way back to the cable bundle...
Disney's New Streaming Concept: Old-Style TV Channels
To better keep viewers, Disney+ is going old school...

It really is pretty amazing how cyclical this all is:

In television, what’s old is new again. After more than a decade of growth in streaming services that make viewers click on shows they want to watch “on demand,” a growing number of streaming services are offering new “channels” that function more like old-style TV, with a continuous, scheduled stream of shows.

Disney is the latest to expand in this market. The company plans to create a series of such channels within its Disney+ streaming service that show programming in specific genres, including either Star Wars or Marvel-branded shows, according to people involved in the planning. Lots of other companies have already launched such channels, although typically as free offerings rather than within a subscription service. That includes Disney, which has launched similar channels within its ABC.com app, such as one dedicated to its “20/20” newsmagazine program and another to the daytime soap opera “General Hospital.

A grouped together linear airing of content organized around a topic. Yes, this is a television channel. Disney+ has created a television channel.

Welcome to the world of streaming in 2024, where everyone is trying to figure out how to create new methods of serving up content in order to better showcase (and try to get a return on) all of the stuff that they've paid for and, relatedly, reducing churn. Every idea will be tried, even old tried-and-true ones. Hence, channels.

The channels planned for Disney+ may not technically be FAST, as they will likely require viewers to be Disney+ subscribers. Still, in other respects they would be similar to FAST channels. Genres could include classic Disney animated movies or animated films made by Pixar, said the people involved in the planning.

The most surprising thing about this is that it's not free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) as linear programming obviously translates well to the ability to serve ads, which is something Disney, like all streamers, has been ramping. I have to believe it's just a matter of time though.

Again, this early version is simply a way to serve up content already on the service in a different way. It's easy to forget just how much content all of these services have on them because most people naturally just focus on what's new.1 And these huge libraries have an element of the paradox of choice. The best way to combat this is to offer a lean-back experience. Just pick a topic/genre/IP and let Disney serve it up for you. This is something satellite radio has used to great effect over the years (because radio, mainly used in the car, has to be more lean back – can you imagine having to choose a song every single time?) – shout out channel 22: Pear Jam Radio on SiriusXM.

One thing lost in the era of stream is also the notion of "background television" – that is, just turning on the TV to whatever happens to be on at the moment and letting it run in the background while you're doing something else. Offering channels is potentially a way back to that as well.

The challenge is that hundreds of such channels now exist across various streaming apps, both large and small, that are programmed with 24 hours of content but capturing very little viewership. Schiekofer predicted a shakeout was coming, with those services that don’t get much viewership or ad revenue shuttering.

One downside to this concept is the fact that unlike broadcast or even cable television, the number of channels that can be created is basically unlimited. And obviously advertisers are only going to pay for those that have real viewers. And the streaming services obfuscate such data far more than television of old.

One more thing:

In the same vein, Netflix in late 2022 explored creating a store within its app for users to subscribe to and watch other streaming services, all without leaving the Netflix app, according to a person who was involved in those exploratory discussions. Netflix’s store would have been similar to Amazon’s Prime Video Channels program, which lets Prime Video subscribers click a button to sign up for a wide range of other services. But it would be a major departure for Netflix, making it more of a streaming platform than a stand-alone outlet.

I am surprised Netflix hasn't done this yet, but also believe it's just a matter of time. As the now unquestioned leading streamer, they have the ability to bring the other players, including those with whom they were viciously competing just a few months ago, into the app as another sort of "channel". Netflix is just leaving this money on the table for now, but likely won't forever as the quest for revenue continues.

We even have a name for this concept: a bundle.

1 Except for maybe Apple TV+ because as a brand new service it has lacked any sort of library. But that's changing with time (and deals struck to stream other content as well).