Walt Disney, the US media giant, is shutting down its television sports channels in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong as part of a strategic shift to direct-to-consumer streaming platforms.

The company announced today that it was closing 18 TV channels that offer sport, entertainment and factual content and which were acquired as part of its acquisition of assets of rival 21st Century Fox in a $71 billion deal concluded in March 2019.

These include Fox Sports, Fox Sports 2, Fox Sports 3, Star Sports 1 and Star Sports 2.

The move comes with Disney planning to roll out its over-the-top streaming service Disney Plus across the region.

It is already available in 59 markets, including Indonesia, as Disney Plus Hotstar since last September, and Singapore, since this February, with a total of 100 million paying subscribers worldwide.

In a statement announcing the closure of the channels, Disney said: “As part of The Walt Disney Company’s global effort to pivot towards a D2C-first model and further grow our streaming services, the company is consolidating its Media Networks business primarily in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

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By GlobalData

“These efforts will help us align our resources more efficiently and effectively to current and future business needs.”

In addition to the sports channels, the networks that are disappearing comprise Fox, Fox Crime, Fox Life, FX, Fox Action Movies, Fox Family Movies, Fox Movies, Star Movies China, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Nat Geo People and SCM Legend.

The only channels to survive the cutbacks are Star Chinese Channel, Star Chinese Movies, National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild.

It is not known if Disney will continue to target sports rights in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong but, in the short term, the closure of the relevant channels looks certain to impact on the likes of telecoms operators SingTel and StarHub in Singapore and PCCW’s NowTV in Hong Kong, which presently offer them as part of pay-TV subscription packages, and may have to reduce the prices accordingly,

The Disney-owned channels presently show a variety of top sport including Formula 1 and the grand slam tennis tournaments of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

The Fox Sports and Star Sports channels were a legacy of ESPN Star Sports, the pan-Asian sports broadcaster that was a long-time joint venture of international media giants News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and ESPN, the TV sports business that is a subsidiary of Disney.

News Corp bought out ESPN's 50 per cent stake in 2012, with many of the channels subsequently renamed and relaunched.

However, Disney returned to the fray with its takeover of Fox assets two years ago.

The number of job losses has not been disclosed, but it has been reported that Daniel Tan, the Singapore-based marketing head, and Shoba Martin, Asia-Pacific head of marketing for studio marketing, are leaving Disney.

Meanwhile, Michael Dick, Fox Network Group content executive, is to set to assume the leadership of DTC acquisition for the region and channels in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia.