It’s early September, just two months before the Nov. 12 go-live date for Disney Plus. Michael Paull, president of Disney Streaming Services, sits five floors above Chelsea Market, the bustling mall and tourist attraction in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood — in the global nerve center of the Mouse House’s video-streaming operations.
On Disney’s earnings call a few weeks earlier, CEO Bob Iger called Disney Plus “the most important product that the company has launched” during his 14-year tenure in the job. Paull and his team at DSS are responsible for the development, delivery, design, support and marketing of Disney Plus, as well as ESPN Plus.
The stakes are high for Disney’s multibillion-dollar push into the streaming wars. Paull admits feeling “great responsibility” in delivering on the Disney Plus promise. But he expresses confidence that DSS has engineered Disney Plus with the right set of initial features and, just as important, has the technical personnel and infrastructure to deliver on the goal of racking up as many as 90 million subscribers within the next five years.
“Being able to operate at scale is very different from being able to operate in sort of single-digit-million subscribers. It’s night and day,” he says.
That operational know-how, and the group’s Chelsea Market home base, came to Disney through its deal to acquire majority control of Major League Baseball’s BAMTech for $2.6 billion. It’s a business that has been pumping video online since 2002 and has an unmatched track record, says streaming analyst and consultant Dan Rayburn — who calls DSS the “special forces of the streaming industry.”
“Disney Streaming Services has more expertise and more resources than anybody else in the industry,” he says. “They are just snapping up so many good people in the industry.”
What made BAMTech different is that it started life with a mission exactly aligned with Disney’s goals: taking media rights (in MLB’s case, launching the MLB.tv service) and monetizing them, says Joe Inzerillo, EVP and CTO of Disney Streaming Services.
“When you look at other companies that have acquired service providers it hasn’t always worked out, because those providers didn’t do in-house services,” says Inzerillo, who has been with the organization for 16 years. For BAMTech, “the technology grew as it needed to.”
Over the past year, Paull, who previously was Amazon’s VP of digital video, has dramatically expanded Disney Streaming Services to more than double its headcount, with most of its 1,600 employees based in New York. His hires have included senior VP of data Laura Evans, formerly with the New York Times, who has formed a new team dedicated to data and analytics. “We’re understanding user behavior,” she says. “And we’re reusing that data to enhance the customer experience.” Evans’ team also is applying data to marketing, with customer acquisition and retention programs.