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The ‘unrivaled’ move you might have missed from Disney’s early upfront at CES

A cartoon hand with a white glove cradles a couch with people watching and reacting to a connected TV.

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Shutterstock / The Current

Disney made a slew of big announcements about its streaming business at the Consumer Electronics Showcase in Las Vegas Thursday, continuing a trend of media companies making news ahead of the traditional upfront season.

Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising, took the stage and called the past year its “biggest” for technological expansion with the global rollout of Disney+ with ads, merging Hulu with Disney+, and building out ESPN with sports betting.

“We specifically chose this week and this stage to tell this story,” she told a packed audience at the Aria Resort & Casino.

During its tech showcase, Disney announced new streaming advancements, including introducing shoppable ads on Hulu and soon-to-be Disney+ (falling in line with Amazon, NBCUniversal, and Roku) to unite retail media and connected TV (CTV); immersive ad formats around commerce and gaming; new measurement partners; and a new data clean room portal for advertisers.

Those are major moves for the Mouse House. But arguably its most important message was that it will slowly roll out its audience graph — which activates across more than 2,000 first-party data audience segments, according to McGraw — to all countries where Disney+ with ads exists, and to its self-service platform. Agencies will have the ability to leverage their upfront rates in the platform, further blurring the lines between streaming and linear deals.

The move marks a major step forward for Disney’s international streaming ambitions, and what could become a windfall to global marketers who wish to reach audiences across different geographies around the world. It’s not an easy feat since Disney will have to navigate the nuances of each geographical region — given that no single market is the same — and comply with any applicable data privacy regulations.

Dana McGraw, senior VP of audience modeling and data science at Disney Advertising, explained the appeal of the Disney audience graph, calling it the “foundation of all innovation,” allowing Disney to find, reach, and understand the behaviors of viewers across linear TV, digital, and streaming TV, including their past purchase histories. McGraw said the company’s first-party data segments consistently outperform second- and third-party data segments.

“From here, we know what sports they watch on ESPN. Whether or not they prefer The Bear or are interested in The Kardashians or both. And it goes even deeper than that —
we have a vast understanding of these streaming personas. So we know not just what anime our Animayhem enthusiasts are into, but whether they are in the market for a car,” McGraw explained. “Think of it as full-funnel audience segmentation.”

McGraw said the same capabilities are being built in every region, “creating parity across the world — while continuing to respect consumer privacy. This kind of expansion is unrivaled in the streaming marketplace.”

Dana McGraw, senior VP, audience modeling and data science, Disney Advertising speaking at Disney’s fourth annual tech showcase at CES.
Dana McGraw, senior VP, audience modeling and data science, Disney Advertising speaking at Disney’s fourth annual tech showcase at CES.

Until now, Disney’s audience graph was only available domestically in the U.S. In November 2023, Disney+ launched its ad-supported tier in 10 markets globally, including Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In the year during which Disney+ with ads has existed in the U.S., Disney found that half of new subscribers chose to accept ads, while nearly 70 percent of current Hulu subscribers have chosen the ad tier, Lisa Valentino mentioned at a Consumer Electronics Showcase panel earlier in the week.

As major streaming companies continue to compete to build out their international presence, Disney is taking no prisoners. "Disney is a global brand and it brings its unique direct-to-consumer offers to each market. It is not only expanding its footprint but also bringing decisioning to marketers across regions and changing the way media is transacted," said Will Doherty, VP of inventory development at The Trade Desk, a CTV partner of Disney, following the showcase.

As Ferro stated at the top of the presentation: “We’re not slowing down. This commitment means a better experience for consumers, and better performance for you. It means a global advertising platform created specifically for streaming for any brand, of any size, in any market to meet any goal […] Our tech stack was intentionally built for streaming, to work seamlessly across the global marketplace. It was made for you to buy once and deliver everywhere. We’re not renting or borrowing someone else’s technology. We own it.”

“No other company is driving change at the speed of Disney.”

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk, Inc.