ABC/Hulu’s Craig Erwich Stresses Value of the Disney Ecosystem

Disney Television Group president Craig Erwich used his time before the press corps Saturday at TCA to spotlight the value of the Mouse House’s ecosystem.

Overseeing a portfolio that includes ABC, Freeform and Hulu as well as a slate of kids channels, the executive said the decision of what programming goes on linear or streaming is “not one vs. the other” but rather that all of the platforms are “complementary” and “non-duplicative” that “work together.”

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Armed with a Landgraf-ian amount of data, Erwich said Disney collected 54 billion hours of viewing, starting first on linear before growing to streaming platforms in the U.S. last year, which is 10 billion more than their closest competitor. “That’s the bar and how we think of success, the long game,” he said of creating a library that can draw viewers for years to come. “New shows invite subscribers in, the library of hits keeps them with us,” he said.

With Grey’s Anatomy, for example, the Shonda Rhimes-produced medical drama has value far beyond linear. The Ellen Pompeo-starrer, Erwich said, was the No. 1 globally streamed show on Disney+ with 1 billion hours, and that’s before the full 19-season library (with season 20 coming shortly afterward) arrives on the streamer next month. Abbott Elementary was ABC’s No. 1 current show on Hulu and “reaches older audiences on ABC and younger viewers on Hulu,” he said, “highlighting the complementary nature of these platforms.” Erwich opened the day after William Stanford Davis (aka Mr. Johnson) made a surprise appearance to announce Abbott’s fourth-season renewal.

After using season one of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building as filler content to air on ABC during the production delays that resulted from last year’s dual strikes, Erwich said he’d be open to repeating the experiment after the results helped the show find new viewers on linear who turned to Hulu to watch subsequent seasons.

“On linear, [Only Murders] reached over 11 million unique viewers,” he said. “The impact from streaming was greater as many ABC viewers migrated to Hulu to continue watching the series. In January alone, first streams on Hulu increased 40 percent, underscoring how complementary Hulu and ABC are to one another.”

The executive, who also oversees Ayo Davis’ Disney Branded Television division, came armed with a slew of announcements including a renewal for Goosebumps and the official news that ABC is indeed moving forward with The Golden Bachelorette, though casting he said is still underway. The spinoff will air in the fall on ABC, a year after The Golden Bachelor helped “reignite” the franchise with a third of the show’s audience on Hulu having never viewed any of the shows in that world.

Here are other highlights from Erwich’s time at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour:

A Court of Thornes and Roses is still in development

In a sign of how big author Sarah J. Maas’ “romantasy” book series has become, the first question Erwich was asked was about the status of the TV adaptation. Erwich confirmed it’s still in development but had no news to share beyond that.

Grey’s Anatomy victory lap

ABC plans to celebrate the 20th season of the medical drama, which will see fan-favorite Jessica Capshaw return in its landmark cycle. “We’re going to have a tremendous amount of fanfare when it comes on next month,” he said, calling the show as “creatively strong as it’s ever been” and “fueling growth to Disney’s streaming platforms.” ABC execs historically have said the show will run as long as Pompeo wants to do it. The star departed the series as a regular in season 19, but the new trailer shows her still involved onscreen. Erwich said nothing about the show’s future beyond season 20 as that remains an annual negotiation for the pricey project.

Freeform’s future in scripted is unclear

After axing Cruel Summer and Good Trouble, Freeform has no new scripted series in the works, but Erwich said the cable network that targets a young, female audience still has a “full slate” for 2024. Yes, there are the final seasons of Good Trouble and Grown-ish, but beyond that, Erwich said he plans to “continue to serve that audience through a variety of methods,” including unscripted shows and Freeform’s themed holiday programming blocks including 25 Days of Christmas. Freeform, along with Disney Junior, were both dropped as part of Disney’s recent carriage negotiations with Charter. Erwich, though, said he wasn’t worried about connecting to those audiences since most Freeform content is viewed on Hulu, and Disney Junior programming is on Disney Channel and Disney+, as well as on YouTube.

The difference between ABC, Hulu and Disney+ programming

Erwich was asked to explain the difference in what makes a scripted show for ABC, Hulu and Disney+, and he said all of Disney’s brands have a “clear, creative filter” that is “designed to serve a specific role.” Disney Branded Television, Davis’ division behind Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Goosebumps, is about introducing Disney characters to the next generation of fans. ABC is home to the so-called “soapcedurals” with shows that can generate around 20 episodes annually. Hulu, he said, features shows that “reflect and pierce popular culture” like The Dropout and Pam & Tommy that are “addictive, guilty pleasures that are executed at the highest level.”

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