Last week, Disney quietly added a new event to its D23 Expo schedule. A "Secret Walt Disney Company Project" presentation showed up for 1:30-2:30pm on Saturday, August 24 on Stage 28, with the tag line, "Will be announced Aug. 22!"
What the heck is this?
Of course, fans are guessing everything from a Disney-owned airline (not gonna happen) to a new theme park (we'll get to that). This announcement took a lot of insiders by surprise — there just hadn't been any chatter about a new project in the works that wasn't already on the jam-packed D23 Expo schedule.
The lack of leaks about this project, whatever it is, suggests that this is something whose development remains deep inside the company at this point. Outside contractors almost certainly have not been brought in yet, nor have people inside the company at levels low enough that they'd risk an unauthorized leak been brought on board.
That also suggests that the project probably remains vaporware at this stage, as there are very few projects that Disney could undertake that would not involve a large team effort to develop and bring to market. Checking the U.S. Trademark database reveals no unexplained trademark applications from Disney this year, so there's no clue to be read there.
So what could it be? Some people have suggested that it could have something to do with CEO Bob Iger's replacement, but a CEO search for a leader who has said that he's eventually going to leave is hardly a secret project. No, I'm guessing that this is something else, unrelated to Disney's management lineup.
It seems to me that the obvious place to start deducing what this secret project is should be to look at the gaps in what Disney already has on the table. Disney already has a movie studio, broadcast and cable networks, and a new direct-to-consumer streaming service. It has theme parks, a cruise line, a timeshare business and hotels. It has publishing and music labels, branded credit cards, and a massive presence in consumer merchandise.
What Disney does not have — and its top competitors do — is a network to deliver its digital content to the home. Universal is part of Comcast and Warner Bros. is now part of AT&T. An announcement that Disney is getting into the ISP, satellite or cable business would represent a giant challenge to those competitors. Doing that would require a massive capital expenditure from Disney, but just an announcement likely would be enough to drive down Comcast's and AT&T's stock prices, which would make Disney brass happy.
I can't imagine Disney wanting to get involved in the cable business after launching Disney+, nor do I see it taking on the expense and political hassle to lay fiber around the country to deliver Internet connectivity that way. But doing a deal with SpaceX to launch some satellites? That's not inconceivable. Having a Disney-owned way for people to get an affordable Internet connection to watch Disney+ is absolutely in the company's interest. Without one, Disney is effectively driving customers to its rivals at Comcast and AT&T to buy the Internet access they need to watch Disney+.
Okay, let's say Disney isn't going that big on this project. What other opportunities exist that Disney is not already taking?
As a family-targeted media company that aspires to be a lifestyle brand and whose leadership absolutely understands the zeitgeist, the biggest media product opportunity right now for Disney is... to create its own social media network. Disney has flirted with this product before, with Club Penguin and the old Go network, but the public is starving for a Facebook alternative right now. A family-friendly alternative from Disney could grab huge market share pretty much immediately. And a Disney-managed social network could drive a ton of new traffic to Disney's own media properties and websites, too.
If we really just want to speculate about a new theme park, okay, let's do that. But the lack of ay advance information about this secret project tells me that if Disney really wants to build a new gate, it remains years behind Universal Orlando's Epic Universe project, which is already under construction. A new park announcement this month would look too much like a desperate reaction to what Universal just announced. Especially after Universal brought in Florida's governor to effectively endorse the project.
Could this be another international development, then? If this secret project has anything to do with theme parks, that's what I would guess.
But at this point, your guess is as good as anyone's outside the company. So let's hear 'em in the comments.Tweet
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