Disney Plus launched Nov. 12, 2019, just one year ago (although in these pandemic times, it feels more like a few decades). It followed on the heels of another new streaming service, Apple TV Plus. But while the latter came onto the scene with little fanfare, Disney Plus debuted to big expectations — from fans, from the industry and from Wall Street.
The service combines Disney’s century-old vault of classic films, shows from brands like Disney Channel and Freeform and blockbusters like the Marvel movies. And to compete with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and its corporate sibling Hulu, Disney Plus also commissioned originals, including the first live-action Star Wars series in The Mandalorian.
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Disney has another hit on its hands
A year in, Disney Plus has become one of the big players in the streaming landscape thanks to that impressive library and its affordable price ($6.99 per month or $69.99 a year).
In August, the company announced the service had surpassed 60 million subscribers (opens in new tab). That’s bonkers, when you consider that Disney had predicted it would have that number by 2024. Disney Plus is four years ahead of schedule, with few signs of slowing down.
A lot of that growth has been powered by international subscribers, as Disney Plus has expanded to the UK, western Europe, Japan and India.
The streaming service has been one of the few bright spots for Disney during the pandemic. Their theatrical business is at a standstill with movies pushed to 2021 and beyond. Thousands of workers have been laid off from its theme parks. Meanwhile, the company recently underwent a reorganization that emphasized the ascendance of streaming. In a press release, CEO Bob Chapek (opens in new tab) highlighted the “incredible success” of Disney Plus and the plan to support its “growth strategy.”
Content really is king
It’s hard not to compare the launches of Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus. They’re both streaming services that rolled out around the same time, from deep-pocketed companies. But where Apple TV Plus debuted with a small, all-original lineup of shows, Disney Plus boasted an enviable vault filled with decades’ worth of beloved animated favorites and family-friendly comedies and dramas.
This is the content that generations of kids have clamored to watch — from the original Cinderella to the live-action Cinderella remake. “Let It Go”? Absolutely not, since you can rewatch Frozen over and over and over again until the next Ice Age.
As for originals, Disney started out slowly, with just a handful. But among those was the kind of hit for which you wish upon a star — The Mandalorian. The surprise reveal of The Child aka Baby Yoda at the end of the first episode fueled a cottage industry of memes and Etsy merchandise (since official gear wasn’t available yet).
By contrast, Apple TV Plus launched with … what? Even its most high-profile series, The Morning Show, with big-name stars Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, never got the buzz that The Mandalorian got. Not only that, when it comes to awards, Disney Plus is the winner, too, since The Mandalorian netted the service a coveted Outstanding Drama Series nomination.
In the months after launch, Disney Plus faltered somewhat — personally, I didn’t watch anything after The Mandalorian ended until summer. I would’ve canceled but I signed up for an advance three-year subscription deal (a 33% discount that saved me $70). But then came the Hamilton movie and suddenly, that investment was worth it to be in the (streaming) room where it happens.
Blockbusters from the comfort of your couch
The pandemic has delayed many major movie releases. But others have become digital on demand or streaming releases. Now that it has a streaming platform, Disney can experiment with both.
Disney changed Hamilton’s release from theatrical to streaming. Then, in September, the company introduced Disney Premier Access for the U.S. release of Mulan. Premier Access purchases cost $30 on top of the regular monthly subscription fee, which seemed a pretty high cost.
But when you think about it, a family of four would pay a lot more than $30 to see a movie in theaters. We don’t know whether the Mulan Premier Access release paid off for Disney. But in these pandemic times, it may be better for the company to recoup some of that $200 million budget rather than wait and see.
Speaking of which, the pandemic looks to continue for months and movie studios are still figuring out what to do with their titles. Disney, at least, has options. It’s already moved Pixar’s Soul to Disney Plus. And fans are clamoring for Black Widow to get a digital release, too.
Disney Plus year two outlook
Disney Plus is sitting in a fantastic position for its second year. It’s already hit subscriber goals years ahead of schedule. It kicked off year two with another season of The Mandalorian (and more Baby Yoda cuteness). It’s got a number of high-profile projects in the pipeline, including several Marvel series like WandaVision (Dec. 2020) and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (TBA). And it’s a viable outlet for Disney-produced films while theaters remain closed or restricted.
With its affordable price, Disney Plus has become a staple streaming subscription right along Netflix. After just a year, that’s an impressive feat. Disney Plus gets an A plus in our book.