Monday, September 7, 2020

Going dark on DStv: Disney's FOX Life and Disney XD the next TV channels leaving MultiChoice's pay-TV service at the end of September 2020.

by Thinus Ferreira

The Disney-run TV channels FOX Life (DStv 126 / StarSat 133) after 4 years and Disney XD (DStv 304) after 9 years are both ending on MultiChoice's DStv at the end of September when DStv subscribers will lose another two TV channels on the pay-TV service.

FOX Life will also exit the StarTimes pay-TV service operating under the StarSat brand in South Africa. StarSat told TVwithThinus that "due to FOX's channel strategy change, FOX will soon cease production of FOX Life" and that "FOX Life will be taken offline on 30 September 2020".

The channels' termination is most likely because of Disney's ongoing global corporate brand realignment efforts after acquiring 21st Century Fox, as well as Disney's big new emphasis to prioritise and shift its focus to its own video streaming endeavours.

With less than a month to go before DStv subscribers lose access to FOX Life and Disney XD MultiChoice has not issued any statement to its customers yet. MultiChoice hasn't responded with any statement or provided answers to questions posed by TVwithThinus about FOX Life and Disney XD by the time of publishing this report.

However, in a note to DStv subscribers who also asked about it, MultiChoice - without giving specifics - said that "as of 30 September Disney XD and FOX Life will stop airing on the DStv platform. The change is as a result of an ongoing review of channels by content providers and platform partners".

UPDATE Monday 7 September 2020 12:22: MultiChoice in a statement to TVwithThinus says that the "MultiChoice Group confirms that as of 30 September 2020 at 23:59 Disney XD (channel 304) and Fox Life (channel 126) will stop airing on the DStv platform".

"The change is as a result of ongoing review of channels by content providers and platform partners."

"Favourite Disney XD content will migrate to the Disney Channel (channel 303). Retained programming will include live-action, animation and key franchise series, movies and stunts." Current shows like Phineas and Ferb, DuckTales, Big City Greens, Supa Strikas, Disney 11, Lab Rats, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Gravity Falls and Big Hero 6 will continue, as well as a host of new series which will be announced in the coming months."

MultiChoice says that it "and its content providers and partners continue to review their channels and viewer consumption to ensure the freshest and best-available content from around the globe. This process sometimes results in the termination of channels, but it also ensures the best possible experience for its customers."

Publicity executives at The Walt Disney Company Africa respectively responsible for communication about the Disney XD and FOX Life channels and who were also asked, didn't respond to individual media enquiries about the termination of FOX Life and Disney XD at the time of publication of this report on Monday.

UPDATE Monday 7 September 2020, 12:00: "We can now now confirm that the Disney XD and Fox Life channels will close at midnight on Wednesday 30 September," The Walt Disney Company Africa told TVwithThinus on Monday afternoon in a statement.

"As the television landscape and viewer consumption evolves, we continue to develop and review our products and services - including with our platform partners - to ensure we are offering the best possible experience for consumers."

"Whilst Disney XD will no longer air, some of the channels most popular and iconic animated and live action series will be brought to Disney Channel, expanding the channel’s programming offer to viewers. 

"Whilst Fox Life will no longer air, we are excited to continue to entertain DStv viewers with world-class series and programming from Fox Channel. We are excited to continue to bring our viewers popular and iconic programming from our extensive media networks channels."

In late-August when TVwithThinus asked Disney Africa if Disney XD is shutting down and why content that was on Disney XD is being moved over and duplicated on The Disney Channel (DStv 303), Jared Stokes, senior communications manager at Disney Africa, said that "we are currently going through some schedule and programming changes as per our ongoing review of our channel offering".

He said that Disney will share more details in coming weeks.

Disney XD meanwhile has continued to move over and duplicate existing Disney XD specific shows on The Disney Channel, effectively rendering Disney XD redundant. Disney XD has also not shown any noteworthy new content.

The demise of Disney XD that launched in May 2011 on MultiChoice in South Africa with shows like Phineas & Ferb after the channel started in 2009 globally and that MultiChoice and Disney at its South African launch on DStv called "a phenomenal success", leaves The Disney Channel and Disney Junior (DStv 309) as its two remaining linear Disney TV channels for children available on DStv.

FOX Life started on DStv and StarSat in September 2016 with Fox Networks Group Africa and DStv that at the time promised hundreds of hours of "fresh new programming for the schedule, focused on localised storytelling, created specifically for African viewers". Very little of that came to pass.

In October 2017 FOX Africa did a "refresh" for FOX Life with a new on-air look and more promises of new and localised content.

The past few months FOX Life has been on virtual life-support with a schedule that suddenly became stacked with reruns and old content.

DStv and StarSat subscribers noticed, complained, and it led them to speculate that FOX Life is on its way out given the lack of attention and the stacking of rerun content on the channel.

In addition, very little to no new international of locally-produced series were made or appeared on FOX Life recently, despite FOX channel executives once promising an ongoing slate of exciting new South American and Turkish telenovelas.

The termination of FOX Life comes 19 months after Disney's billion dollars takeover of 21st Century Fox that included the Fox Networks Group.

At MultiChoice's 2020 DStv Showcase media event in August the pay-TV operator's executives made no announcement to the media that Disney XD and FOX Life will be ending a month later on DStv.

Interestingly, it is shaping up to be a record year over the past year for TV channels going dark on DStv, with the past year that has seen the loss of channels ranging from A+E Networks UK's Crime+Investigation channel to SundanceTV, ITV Choice, SABC Encore and Fashion One to BBC First on DStv, as well as a reduction to fewer M-Net Movies channels.

The likely reasons
Two different reasons are likely driving the shuttering of the FOX Life and Disney XD channels.

Firstly, Disney wants to phase out and get rid of  the "Fox" name everywhere it is used. Disney has been busy and slowly ramping up its strategic global makeover of the legacy-acquired "Fox" brands that have become part of the bigger Disney brand. 

Last month Disney Television Studios rebranded its acquired 20th Century Fox as 20th Television, and Fox 21 TV Studios that is becoming Touchstone Television.

Before that the FOX Sports channels were rebranded as Disney's ESPN channels, effectively returning ESPN to Africa not because ESPN really wanted to return to Africa but because of a corporate takeover change. ESPN dumped Africa and got out of the continent 6 years ago in July 2013.

Regarding the full-on Supa Strikas kick to the curb of Disney XD, it has become very clear that Disney is basically done with putting the amount of energy and focus behind its legacy linear international Disney pay-TV channels as it had done for decades.

Shifting its own importance away from its Disney TV channels, Disney has dramatically realigned its focus the past year towards video streaming and particularly its own Disney+ subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) endeavours like Disney+.

Disney however hasn't yet made any announcement about when it will make Disney+ available in South Africa or Africa.

Over the past few months Disney has abruptly ended carriage agreements of its linear Disney pay-TV channels in big and comparable markets like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand all because of video streaming.

It's very likely that the decision to end Disney XD in the South African and African markets are as a result of this bigger corporate sea change around Disney's TV channels.