The Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney Junior will cease to exist in the UK come October 1st, as Disney moves those channels’ titles exclusively to Disney Plus.
The move comes after Disney failed to reach a distribution agreement with Sky and Virgin Media, according to trade publication Broadcast. Sky, which is owned by Comcast, is one of the largest pay-TV services in the UK. Sky’s premium pay-TV service, Sky Q, also offers Disney Plus to its customers. Disney’s other television channels — including National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild, and Fox — will continue to be aired. Sky will also continue to carry non-Disney family programming, including ViacomCBS’s Nickelodeon channel.
“The direct-to-consumer service, which garnered more than 54.5 million subscribers worldwide in its first seven months, will now premiere all the latest films, series and specials from the three Disney Channels, along with offering a rich and expansive back catalog of Disney Channel titles in the U.K.,” Disney said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
This isn’t the first time Disney has removed its channels from certain broadcasters. In late 2019, the aforementioned Disney channels were removed from Sky in New Zealand. It happened not long after the launch of Disney Plus. With Sky and Disney in the UK now echoing those moves, questions have popped up over whether Disney will be removed from television in the US. The quick answer is no — at least, not anytime soon.
Except that at the center of this debate is Disney Plus
“The Walt Disney Company remains committed to our kids channels business and continues to execute distribution agreements for Disney channels in many markets where Disney+ is also available,” a Disney spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.
On the surface, this story is about a simple carriage dispute. These happen all the time. Cable operators pay networks and studios to carry those channels. If the networks, studios, and cable providers can’t agree on a deal, operators stop carrying certain channels. This often happens with local sports affiliates. “Blackouts” refer to periods where said channels are unavailable. Often, pressure from customers puts enough weight on the companies to find a middle ground and make a decision.
Except that at the center of this debate is Disney Plus. Disney can refocus its efforts on building a streaming empire, where they retain a higher percent of the revenue through direct signups than with linear television in markets like the UK. Instead of playing ball with Comcast to carry the channels, Disney can just point everyone to its crown jewel streaming service. If people want access to a catalog of classic Disney Channel titles and ongoing series, they’ll have to sign up for Disney Plus.
In a 2019 earnings call, Disney executive chairman (and then CEO) Bob Iger told analysts that Disney Plus “is a bet on the future of this business.” That includes nearly every part of Disney’s business, from its studio films (some of which are now headed to Disney Plus as exclusives) to elements of its TV business. That doesn’t mean Disney is suddenly going to give up on television — advertising revenue isn’t something Disney is going to walk away from. But in areas where it might make more sense for Disney to give up on having a linear TV presence and move things over to Disney Plus exclusively, it’s something we might start to see happen more regularly.