When Disney unveiled its Disney+ plans this week, it was met with acclaim from most observers. WIRED discussed how it will take over the world, and rightfully so. The streaming service is slated to cost just $6.99 per month at launch, and $69.99 for a full year.
That price point already puts it well below competitors like Netflix and Amazon, and one would assume Apple TV+ once that arrives this fall. And with a deep (and already licensing-fee free) library of beloved programming options, it’s even well-suited to compete with the likes of Hulu’s on-demand service — keeping in mind that Disney owns 60% of Hulu as it is.
In the last two years, Disney’s launched ESPN+ (already over 2 million subscribers), purchased most of 21st Century Fox’s most valuable entertainment properties and parked a lot of streaming-exclusive content on Netflix. The Hulu experience already tells them a lot about what people watch and how they watch it through streaming services. Operating Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior linear TV networks tell them how much people will watch brand-free programming (they’re all ad free in the sense that all ads are their own network spots). If they ever wanted to change things to an ad-supported model, ABC, Freeform and the ESPN family of networks tell them all they need to know about pivoting to that route.
So yes, in one way or another, Disney’s done all of this before. And the lessons taken from those experiences make it that much more likely this endeavor’s a success. ESPN+ may appear to be the smallest piece of that puzzle due to its relatively small audience, sure. But the company still convinced a lot of people to spend an additional $5 per month for what’s largely niche and overflow content, and that’s on top of the highest cable carriage fees in the industry. At launch, it seemed like a roadmap for ESPN. Now, it appears it may have been a roadmap for Disney as an entire entertainment company.
The test — and really, the only thing that could potentially scuttle Disney+ at all — is if they don’t apply the lessons learned from all of these previous projects.
Disney has the benefit of starting not just with a rich catalog of original content, but a rich catalog of original content they don’t even have to spend time and money producing. Along with properties like its previously-aired animated films and shows, Pixar films, Marvel and Star Wars, there’s also Fox-owned media like the Simpsons. Original shows — specifically around the Marvel and Star Wars banners — are coming soon, and those will cost money to produce. But there’s virtually zero start-up cost in terms of content if they wanted to launch today (they’re not launching until November, by the way).
All of Disney’s recent-ish transactions (Star Wars, Marvel, 21st Century Fox) have been leading to this. Because while Disney’s O.G. programming is plenty capable of anchoring networks (and theme parks, resorts, movies, stores, etc.), the company figured out years ago that growth demanded a wider scope and the ability to stick with consumers from diapers to, well… adult diapers. There have long been Disney diehards that love Mickey and the rest of the iconic “brand.” But Disney’s spent recent efforts making sure those people aren’t the only ones hooked for decades on end.
Its Netflix endeavors were yet another test of the theory, as Disney let the streaming giant handle the hard work before taking it over themselves, to some degree. When Netflix cancelled exclusive Marvel series like Jessica Jones, Punisher, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Luke Cage, it was in part to pre-empt exactly what Disney had wanted to accomplish. But it was probably too late to stop it.
Between the glut of shows and the various Disney (and Star Wars and Marvel) movies on Netflix, Disney had all the proof they needed. Across the board, fans of their properties would pay to stream them for months on end, and were hooked on having them readily available and on-demand. Speaking from my own experience, I’m already too used to having easy access to many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films in the lead-up to Avengers: Endgame. Once they’re all pulled (which they will be by late 2019), that and having a six-month old at home could be all the impetus I need to sign up for Disney+. I doubt I’m alone.
There will be much more ink spilled about Disney+ programming in the coming months, but it’s all likely to focus on one thing: Launching this service has zero downside for Disney and is almost a lock to succeed. Whether it is a true Netflix competitor is a completely different story. But even if it isn’t and winds up lacking the new original content the former has found its most success with, there’s enough archived and owned content to keep this train running for years.