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‘Dancing With the Stars’ Returns With an $8 Monthly Streaming Bill as Show Goes Online

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 9/14/2022 Christopher Palmeri

(Bloomberg) -- “Dancing With the Stars,” one of ABC’s biggest TV shows, returns on Sept. 19 with a little surprise: an $8 monthly streaming bill.

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The popular competition series, which drew an average of 6.36 million viewers a night on ABC last season, is airing live on Disney+, forcing fans to sign up for a monthly subscription if they want to keep up with the long-running show.

It’s yet another sign of the changes sweeping the TV business as viewers increasingly tune into streaming services rather than the traditional channels. In the past few weeks alone, online viewing passed cable TV for the first time, the CW network was sold for next to nothing, and NBC, one of the biggest broadcasters, has floated the idea of eliminating an hour of prime-time programming.

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ABC, a unit of the Walt Disney Co., announced just three new shows for the coming fall season, half as many as five years ago, and one of them, “Celebrity Jeopardy!” has run many times in the past. Overall five major broadcast networks are premiering just 17 new shows this fall, compared with 25 three years ago, according to data from Ampere Analysis Ltd. The number of new scripted series is down to 10 from 16.

The popularity of “Dancing with the Stars” is nowhere near its peak more than a decade ago, when some 21 million viewers watched. And its success on Disney+ is no sure thing. 

‘Mark My Words’

“You guys are going to lose fans,” one irate viewer wrote on Instagram. “Mark my words.”

But the move could be a sign of what’s to come if the show ends up attracting more viewers and subscribers online, according to Rich Greenfield, an analyst at LightShed Partners. He notes that Disney+ wants to become a broader, general entertainment service.

Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek said the company still has a lot of programming for its traditional TV networks, which are a much-needed profit generator as the company builds out its still-money-losing online offerings. The programs that run online are of the same quality as those on the networks, he said. He’s reorganized the company so that a new centralized unit makes decisions on what the best home is for a program, and in their eyes the “Dancing” shuffle won’t hurt ABC.

“To take a great franchise like that and move it to streaming doesn’t in any way hamper or signal anything about our legacy business,” Chapek said in an interview. “Other than we look at the demographics of a show like that, we look at its potential and say, ‘What could it be like here?’”

Discount Offer

To encourage viewers to make the switch, Disney+ is offering a discounted $1.99 subscription for one month. The promotion expires Monday with the debut of the new “Dancing” season. The program is going to streaming just as the company prepares to introduce an ad-supported version of Disney+ on Dec. 8, a move that ironically makes streaming TV look a lot like the over-the-air broadcasts it’s replacing.

The median age for a viewer of “Dancing” was 63 years old last year, notes Brad Adgate, a consultant and long-time researcher of the TV business. While the move may prompt some older viewers to subscribe to Disney+, it may also be the case they just find something else to watch on cable or over the air.  

“This show is really old, and the streaming age profile is younger,” Adgate said. “It remains to be seen how great a fit this is demographically.”

Disney revealed the celebrity contestants on Sept. 8. It’s a list that ranges from 18-year-old TikTok personality Charli D’Amelio to 71-year-old former “Charlie’s Angels” star Cheryl Ladd, illustrating the broad audience the show is trying to reach. Disney made the announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program.

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