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Disney and Google Ink Broad, Multiyear Digital Advertising Deal

The Walt Disney Co. is moving all of its digital brands and properties worldwide — including Disney, ABC, ESPN, Freeform, Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars — to Google’s advertising platform.

Under the multiyear pact, Disney will bring its entire global digital video and display business onto Google Ad Manager, which will serve as its core ad-technology platform. The deal cuts across multiple channels, including live streaming and direct-to-consumer content offerings.

Disney has previously used Google for some of its ad-serving business. With the companies’ new all-encompassing deal, Google will replace Comcast’s FreeWheel, which has been the ad-tech vendor used by ESPN and the Disney-ABC Television Group.

The companies said it’s a “multiyear” deal, but declined to say how long it will run or provide financial details. With the agreement, Disney Advertising Sales will be able to offer advertisers “optimized cross-platform delivery and performance measurement” of digital video and display ads, the companies said. The deal spans advertising for multiple content types, including long-form VOD, live-streaming video, short-form video, news content (both video and text), and fantasy games.

Disney had been in discussions with Google about a year about the Mouse House making a wholesale cutover to Google’s Ad Manager, according to Aaron LaBerge, CTO of the Disney Direct-To-Consumer and International segment. Disney had considered building or buying its own advertising-technology stack, LaBerge said, but concluded that given Google’s ongoing investment in the space “it was better for us to explore a partnership than trying to reinvent the wheel at the scale we are talking about.”

Disney formed the DTCI business, led by chairman Kevin Mayer, in a March 2018 reorg. The group encompasses Disney’s media and direct-to-consumer businesses globally, including all Disney networks outside of the U.S.; ESPN+; the Disney+ streaming service slated for 2019 launch; and the company’s ownership stake in Hulu. The creation of the Direct-To-Consumer and International unit “gave us an opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate some of our technical partners,” said LaBerge, who previously was ESPN’s CTO.

As part of the Disney-Google deal, Google will power the ads served in ESPN+, the subscription-sports service that debuted earlier this year. As for Disney+, there are not currently plans for the service to have advertising, but if that were ever to change it would be included under the Google pact, LaBerge said.

The new deal does not include Hulu, which has its own ad-tech platform. Disney owns 30% of Hulu and is poised to gain majority control under its deal to purchase 20th Century Fox assets including Fox’s 30% ownership stake in Hulu.

In aggregate, Disney’s digital properties reach about 230 million users worldwide, who spend more than 14 billion minutes of time per month visiting them, according to comScore data for September 2018.

Beyond letting Disney standardize on one global ad-tech platform, the companies said that under the deal they will collaborate to develop next-generation solutions and technologies across video, mobile, apps and display. The pact also will enable improved personalization and enhanced data metrics for cross-platform media use and engagement, according to Disney and Google.

For example, ads served in live-streaming digital video are “not always as good as what you see on television,” said LaBerge. Working with Google, DTCI expects to improve the way ads are stitched into live video so there’s a more seamless experience, he said.

“Together, we plan to build an advanced video experience for Disney that will transcend devices, platforms, and living rooms to bring the magic of premium video content into people’s hearts, minds, and screens—everywhere,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, said in a statement.

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