Disney Upfront Spotlights Inclusion, Cross-Platform Endeavors

“Give us your money. You might as well, we’re Disney. We’re going to get it one way or the other, right? How about this? Give us your money or we’ll kill Baby Yoda,” quipped ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel at the end of Disney’s extensive upfront day, which spanned nearly four hours in total, between the press briefing in the morning and the virtual presentation itself.

The roast was lighthearted but ad money is serious business, and the Walt Disney Co. flexed its Mouse muscles Tuesday with an upfront that showcased the full firepower of its arsenal of networks, from an extended trailer for Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy” starring Sebastian Stan and Lily James to ABC’s “The Wonder Years” reboot to ESPN’s live sports programming. A major part of Disney’s message to would-be advertisers appeared to be: we have many, many platforms, and seamless cross-brand synergies tying them all together.

“We have maximum flexibility in determining when, and on which platform, content will be available,” said Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, touting the rapid growth of Disney’s many streaming services.

As streaming becomes of paramount importance to the major entertainment companies vying for a foothold into the future, Disney’s brands were big on playing up their growth and reach: Hulu’s viewership, for instance, rose 67% to 103 million ad-supported viewers over the past two years, with an audience that is 61% cordless. And Disney said it reaches 200 million viewers across streaming, linear and digital platforms with its live sports programming, with streaming of college football up 40% from the prior year. In a show of cross-platform strength, the company also touted that nearly 60% of Hulu subscribers engage with sports programming.

Daniel also used his time during Disney’s upfront to talk about the “imperative” of creative and on-screen inclusion, which was an undercurrent of the day’s proceedings, from Taika Waititi promoting his upcoming “Reservation Dogs” for FX to “Grown-ish” star Yara Shahidi discussing the comedy “Smoakland” she is producing with Jewel Coronel and Zahir McGhee, to the newly launched Onyx Collection — a Hulu brand dedicated to amplifying creators of color and underrepresented voices — overseen by Freeform president Tara Duncan.

“We’re setting out to create a content pipeline for multicultural voices,” said Duncan at the event.

ABC, which unveiled its fall slate this morning, showcased an extended trailer for its two new series, “The Wonder Years,” featuring the voice of Don Cheadle, and “Queens,” a drama about a ’90s hip-hop group that reunites after hearing their classic hit sampled in a new song on the radio. The day also included an ode to the long-running “Black-ish,” which will broadcast its final season in the new year. While ABC was first at bat, Disney exec Craig Erwich — who oversees both ABC Entertainment and Hulu Originals now, in the wake of Disney’s most recent restructuring — also took the opportunity to display Hulu’s full roster, which, in addition to the “Pam & Tommy” teaser that “broke the internet” includes Michael Keaton starrer “Dopesick,” Paul McCartney docu “McCartney 3, 2, 1” and Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s Welsh soccer club docu “Welcome to Wrexham.”

Separately, Erwich hyped up Hulu’s push into the reality space, starting with its partnership with the Kardashian clan, which gives the streamer the entire “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” library of episodes and the family’s upcoming show on Hulu. Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner said the new series would show how they are “evolving as a family.”

Then, speaking to the upfront’s core audience, she added: “And yes, we’re open to integrations and sponsorships, so start planning now, advertisers.”

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