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Week In Review: Disney+ Teams With Verizon To Juice Customer Base, Facebook’s News App

1. Disney+ Teams With Verizon To Juice Customer Base

In a story that seems to have flown below everyone’s radar, Disney+ struck a deal with Verizon that will give a free year of Disney+ to all of the carrier’s unlimited plan customers as well as all new FIOS or 5G broadband customers. Which, doing some back of the envelope calculations (Verizon has around 100M wireless customers, around half of whom are on unlimited plans) comes out to around 50 million instant new Disney+ subscribers.

UPDATE: It turns out that Verizon only has around 17 million unlimited subscribers. This is why I am not a telecom analyst.

That’s in addition to everyone else Disney has already signed up.

Why It Matters

You know how most news outlets and Wall Street don’t really get the TV industry. How they’ll see a stat like “Charter loses 75,000 subs this quarter” and hail it as the continuation of the “massive wave of cord cutting” even though it’s less than half a percent of Charter’s total subscriber base?

Well same thing with the Flixes, but in reverse.

So every time Disney says “we have 55 million subscribers” you will see yet another “Disney Is The Netflix Killer” headline and serious discussion about whether Disney or HBO or NBC will be the one to put Netflix out of business.

Because it will never dawn on them that there’s room for everyone and that this is not a zero sum game.

The Verizon deal is not unique—T-Mobile gives away free Netflix—but it does come at an opportune time for Disney and given that Disney+ is just $6.99/month, it should result in a lot of recurring revenue once the deal is up. Especially if the fee is something that automatically kicks in and is buried inside the user’s Verizon Wireless bill (rather than something they’ll have to actively resubscribe to via Disney.)

Now what this does for Disney though is make it seem like they’re #winning.

As in the aforementioned journos writing glowingly about how “Look, they’ve already got over 50 million subscribers! They’re a huge success!”

Which then makes it easy for people to justify signing up for the hot new Disney+ app and for distributors and studios to decide that having Disney+ in their deal flow is a wise idea. 

Or, to put it in political terms, the optics are very good.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re one of the other Flixes, you need to get your own optics. Apple is giving away Apple TV+ to anyone who buys a new Apple product, be it phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. AT&T is giving HBO Max to all its DirecTV, AT&T TV and Uverse subs who are currently signed up for HBO. NBCU likely has something up its sleeve with Comscore and Peacock.  

But the idea is to make it look like you’ve suddenly got millions of subscribers so that when someone is doing a story on the Flixcopalypse, you’ll wind up in the “winners” column, at which point you’ll get more subscribers and anyone who might have been up in the air about doing a content or distribution deal with you can be more easily swayed in your favor.

Optics.

2. Facebook’s News App

Having been hammered on all sides for the past three years, most recently on Capitol Hill, Zuck, Sheryl and the gang are about to roll out their long-awaited news app, or news tab, to be more accurate. 

Why It Matters

From the sound of it, and from the large number of TV news organizations involved, and from the fact that the project is being headed by former TV news anchor Campbell Brown (CNN), it seems as if most of the news will be video-based (in keeping with the “Pivot To Video” trend.)

And many of the news outlets in question will actually be paid for being part of Facebook’s news tab. Not all of them, mind you, but many of them. Which is sort of the opposite of the way things used to work between Facebook and publishers.

But in looking at the app a little closer, it seems like Facebook’s algorithm will determine what news you see based on what you’ve been up to on the platform. 

So again, less control, less freedom from algorithms, less of the sorts of things that might get people to change their unfavorable opinions of Facebook.

Now maybe we’re wrong and maybe the tab operates like the Apple News tab and asks you which publications you want to hear from and maybe it offers up some general categories for you to choose from, which will turn it into a personalized news reader.

Though it seems like what Facebook wants is to offer you up its own version of what it thinks your personalized news feed should look like.

That’s going to be a tough sell, especially given that if you played a word association game with people, where you asked them to name the first thing that came into their minds when they heard a certain word, we’re guessing that “Fake News” would be a pretty common response to “Facebook.”

It’s also going to be a tough sell because people don’t traditionally go to Facebook to watch news (why they didn’t make it a separate app like Messenger is a relevant question) and so it’s going to be a challenge to change that behavior.

In fact, people don’t traditionally go to Facebook to watch anything–they go to scan it quickly, so getting them to actually watch news videos, which will likely require both headphones and concentration, is going to be a tough sell.

Then there’s Facebook’s aversion to self-promotion. 

As in remember that TDG study from earlier this year that showed that half of all Facebook users were unaware that Facebook Watch even existed. 

Not that they didn’t use it or didn’t like it. But that they’d literally never even heard of it.

And so it would not be all that surprising if Facebook decided not to really promote the News tab, but rather, just had it show up in the app the way Marketplace did, with zero explanation, and hoped that people would figure out what was going on.

Because at this point, nothing they do would surprise us.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Facebook, promote the News tab when it’s out of beta. As in issue a new release of your app like you do every week, only this time, when users log in, have a pop up come on that welcomes them to the News tab, gives them a quick tour of it and asks them if they want you to help them set theirs up. 

Because relying on a few stories in the trades is not really going to be enough to get the word out.

If you’re a news publisher and you’re thinking that this is proof that Facebook’s changed it’s ways, well, fool me once…

And if you’re a Facebook user and you’re thinking that maybe you’d rather just continue using Facebook to see whose birthday it is and get your news somewhere else, well, we can’t say we really blame you.