For two days in late June, Disney’s board of directors gathered at Walt Disney World in Florida to wrestle with one topic: how technology was disrupting the company’s traditional movie, television and theme park businesses, and what to do about it?
The most startling presentation came from Disney’s biggest division — a $24 billion television operation anchored by ESPN and Disney Channel. Cord cutting was accelerating much faster than expected. Live viewing for some children’s programming was in free fall. At the same time, streaming services like Netflix were experiencing explosive growth.
With Disney’s board exhorting speedy action, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive and chairman, proposed a legacy-defining move. It was time for Disney to double down on streaming.
And that was how the Disney board, which includes Silicon Valley stars like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, came to bet the entertainment giant’s future on a wonky, little-known technology company housed in a former cookie factory: BamTech.
In August, Disney announced that it would introduce two subscription streaming services, both built by BamTech. One, focused on sports programming and made available through the ESPN app, would arrive in the spring. The other, centered on movies and television shows from Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, would debut in late 2019.
“We’re going to launch big, and we’re going to launch hot,” Mr. Iger promised at a subsequent investor conference.
Disney had experimented with building a streaming platform on its own, to mixed results. It also toyed with the idea of buying Twitter.
But Mr. Iger was impressed with BamTech. Based in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market, a former factory for the National Biscuit Company, the 850-employee company has a strong track record — no serious glitches, even when delivering tens of millions of live streams at a time. BamTech also has impressive advertising technology (inserting ads in video based on viewer location) and a strong reputation for attracting and keeping viewers, not to mention billing them.
“BamTech really is as good as it gets,” said Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors, a media and technology consultant.
BamTech grew out of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, or Bam for short, which was founded in 2000 as a way to help teams create websites. By 2002, Bam was experimenting with streaming video as a way for out-of-town fans to watch games.
Soon, Bam developed technology that attracted outside clients, including the WWE, Fox Sports, PlayStation Vue and Hulu. HBO went to Bam in 2014 after failing to create a reliable stand-alone streaming service on its own. Could Bam get HBO up and running — in just a few months?
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