Can Disney dethrone Netflix with its new streaming service?
There’s a crush of new streaming services vying for viewer eyeballs and dollar bills these days. There are still the old stalwarts — Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon. And new entrants like Philo and CBS All Access — andPluto for broke millennials (their tagline is, “It’s free TV”). Apple is courting literary types with series like “The Morning Show” and “Dickinson.”
Soon there will also be Disney+, which launches on November 12. Disney is betting that the public will gladly shell out a few bucks a month in exchange for its entire catalogue of films and TV shows. It’s a pretty great deal, especially once you start digging into what that collection contains. At present, the service has titles from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic.
I suspect many people — not counting those of my peers who really, really love Disney World and visit every year like mouse maniacs — were nonplussed when Disney+ was first announced. I think the rest of us are pretty satisfied with our semi-cord-severed existence, rewatching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Will and Grace on Hulu with impunity. Who needs to pay to have a bunch of Disney movies at their fingertips?
Nostalgic, aging millennials with kids, that’s who. The folks who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s, the era of Disney Channel Original Movies. You’ll be able to watch those on the Disney+ service. You’ll be able to watch pretty much any Disney movie ever made. Along with 20th Century Fox titles like The Sound of Music and The Simpsons. There are also new original shows.
Gary Marsh, head of Disney Channel, announced a brand new Lizzie McGuire series — with Hillary Duff returning. “She’s irreplaceable,” he gushed. Marsh also told the crowd he’d spent ten years working on a follow-up to High School Musical and came up with quite a concept: High School Musical The Musical The Series. “Stay with me here,” he said before he explained the idea. The kids at the high school where the Disney Channel movie was shot end up starring in a production of High School Musical, the musical theater version. “You get it, you got it?” Marsh asked.
There’s also a Pixar series about a plastic fork named Forky starring Tony Hale. And a reality show — perhaps Disney’s answer to Queer Eye — produced by Kristen Bell. Encore reunites the casts of high school musicals years, sometimes decades later and invites them back onstage for an encore performance. Sounds like a tearjerker!
There is a slew of new Marvel content, too. MCU President Kevin Feige announced three brand-new live action series: Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She Hulk. For comic buffs, there’ll also be a show called What If, which takes a well-known storyline and changes one detail, then sees how things change as the action unfolds.
For National Geographic, Jeff Goldblum will host a show that “taps into his inquisitiveness” and “very unique point of view” to evidently illuminate everyday stuff people should know but don’t. The whole display sounds a bit like Bill Nye the Science Guy for Goldblum mega-fans.
Perhaps the biggest unveiling for this prospective customer was the announcement of a live-action Lady and the Tramp. The two pups starring as Lady and Tramp trotted onstage. The whole thing was adorable; these animals already look like cartoons. Maybe they’re actually robodogs sent to replace the canine actors — who die every decade or so — and take their jobs!
Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, delivered all the news from the Star Wars universe. The brand will be bringing the cult-favorite animated series Clone Wars back in February 2020. There will also be a new spy series inspired by Rogue One, starring Diego Luna and Alan Tutick (of Firefly fame). “The series, which will go into production next year, follows the adventures of rebel spy Cassian Andor during the formative years of the Rebellion and prior to the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the studio said.
There was also the unveiling of The Mandalorian, perhaps the most exciting new Star Wars title announced at D23. It stars Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Taika Waititi, and — wait for it — Ewan McGregor, reprising the role yet again of Obi Wan Kenobi. The crowd went crazy as the actor strode onstage. I guess my mom needs Disney+ now.
Lucky for my family, and account-sharers everywhere, the streaming service starts at the very $6.99 per month, a lower price point than competitors Hulu and Netflix. Each account gets four simultaneous 4K/HD streams and seven user profiles at no extra charge. If you pay about twice that, $13, you get ESPN+ plus two additional streams and ad-based Hulu, CNET reports.
Disney is prioritizing delivering high quality video streaming. As The Verge reports, Disney bought a white label tech company called BAMTech in 2017. Its technology largely powers Disney+, ensuring that people can watch without much buffering or not being able to stream at all — as in the early days of Game of Thrones. “We are ready,” Michael Paull, president of Disney’s streaming services and former CEO of BAMTech told The Verge. “Were spending a lot of time planning for this launch.”
The Verge’s Julia Alexander also got a look at the user interface for Disney+ and reported that it looks stark compared to Netflix. That seems like a good thing; for now, Disney is able to organize its collection by clear cinematic worlds: Star Wars, Pixar, MCU, Disney Channel, Disney classics, and so forth. In a time when the number of options of what to stream seem to be endlessly expanding it can be a common 2019 pickle to find yourself scrolling through titles of movies you’ve never heard of on Netflix, unable to decide what to plug into your brain.
Disney+ by contrast also reimagined design for its youngest viewers: the children under seven who largely can’t read yet and need pictures to guide them to their favorite characters and stories. The children’s content section of the service looks completely different than its home page.
All in all, Disney seems to have heavily invested in its first foray into the streaming wars. We’re not surprised, per se. Once Tom Hanks has played your founder in a biopic, you know a company is built to stick around. Maybe Disney+ is our first look at the future of TV and movies.