Disney says entertainment sales growing amid sports shutdown

ESPN parent company Disney said it is seeing increased user consumption and advertiser interest in its entertainment properties while the US sports industry remains at a standstill due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

A day after ESPN senior executive Burke Magnus addressed the sports media giant’s current programming strategy, Rita Ferro, president of Disney advertising sales, posted an open letter describing the company’s ongoing efforts with both brands and leagues.

“Across our entertainment brands we are seeing increased audiences and engagement on both our linear and digital platforms, inclusive of Hulu,” Ferro said. “We’ve shifted Jimmy Kimmel Live an hour earlier and expanded daytime news coverage of current affairs. And we’re looking to attach advertisers to our signature franchises like Good Morning America and our Freeform series, where we have a lot of feel-good family content that can be great resonators for client messaging.”

Ferro said there has been increased advertiser interest in categories including consumer packaged goods and direct-to-consumer amid the the virus outbreak. But with live sports events remaining on hold, Disney is looking to be flexible with corporate sponsors. And like Magnus, Ferro referenced the heightened role of ESPN studio shows such as SportsCenter, Get Up, and First Take now assume in Disney’s overall presence with consumers.

“We are working with the leagues who have suspended their seasons to determine go-forward plans, and be prepared to ensure sponsors are ready to go as soon they are,” Ferro wrote. “While there will be no live games, we’ve increased production of our premier live studio programming.”

She also added, “We are working around the clock with our colleagues at ESPN to determine replacement programming for the remainder of March & April so that we are able to best support the plans you have in place.”

The outreach from both Ferro and Magnus represent part of Disney’s efforts to remain as active as possible while the public health crisis unfolds.

“While these are challenging times to say the least, we remain fully committed to the ongoing service of your businesses,” she said.

Other leagues and media networks are also working to fill programming holes and maintain fan interest with no live games and events happening. The National Football League and National Basketball Association each have opened up their digital video subscriptions for free usage during the virus outbreak, allowing access to troves of archival content.