Trading Places: Why Legacy Media Giants Are Suddenly Acting Like Tech Companies

The Walt Disney Co. is one of the most storied brands in history, world renowned for its animated movies and Marvel films, its theme parks and merchandising, and for its singular emphasis on family-friendly entertainment. It’s a legacy that’s been forged over nearly a century, winding back generations to the company’s formation in 1923.

What Disney decidedly is not is some kind of Silicon Valley upstart. And yet, over the course of the past year, as a pandemic has ravaged the traditional ways that Disney used to make money, the entertainment giant has successfully sold Wall Street on a new way of gauging its success. The stunning transformation is due largely to the company’s 2019 launch of Netflix challenger Disney Plus, as well as its massive investment in streaming services such as Hulu and ESPN Plus. Disney’s goal is to create a rich direct-to-consumer bundle controlled outright by the company. Analysts are looking at a whole new set of metrics, instead of profits and revenues, to assess the house that Mickey Mouse built.

“What’s getting measured is no longer the amount of money being generated from a movie or show but bumps in subscription bases and new sign-ups,” says Derek Johnson, professor of media and cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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