Today is a significant day for Disney Plus. No, it’s not time for the premier of Moon Knight or Obi Wan Kenobi, but instead the streaming service has just got the entire slate of Netflix Marvel shows.
Disney Plus acquiring the Netflix Marvel shows was announced last month, heralds the complete runs of each of its shows: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher and the crossover limited series The Defenders, have just been added to the Disney Plus library. Not to mention all seven seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have also hit the service.
On the surface it may seem strange to be celebrating the arrival of content that is between three and seven years old and has been available on Netflix that whole time, but the excitement surrounding these shows coming to Disney Plus is because of what they represent.
Daredevil, Jessica Jones and their Defenders pals aren’t for kids. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D aside, all of the Marvel shows that have just been added to Disney’s streaming services are rated TV-MA (the Disney Plus MCU shows like WandaVision and Loki were rated between TV-PG and TV-14). This is a first for the streaming service. Many more firsts will arrive in the list of what's new on Disney Plus.
Until now Disney Plus exclusively housed content that was appropriate for the entire family. The Walt Disney Corporation could have housed these shows in a different streaming service (Hulu), more on that below.
It’s unlikely that anyone is going to be swayed to subscribe to Disney Plus purely for a bunch of shows that have had their day in the sun, but these additions suggest that Disney has a plan to hold our attention in the long term.
Disney Plus needs mature content badly
I’m not here to trash Disney Plus, and we currently rank it as one of the best streaming services for good reason. However, it’s starting to suffer from a major issue: content variety.
I love classic Disney/Pixar films as much as the next well-adjusted adult, I’m fully committed to the MCU (even if the Disney Plus series have been of mixed quality) and while I’m no super fan I’ve enjoyed plenty of Star Wars content over the years. Heck, I’ve been subscribed to Disney Plus since launch day, and the thought of cancelling has never really entered my mind.
The problem is Disney Plus is a hard sell to anyone who isn't extremely invested in the MCU/Star Wars or doesn’t have children. I’m a twentysomething, which means I don’t fall into the target demographic for an awful lot of new Disney Plus content. And there's only so much MCU content that can be pumped out on a regular basis. My colleague Kelly Woo previously explained this problem when she argued that Disney Plus' sad Valentine’s Day collection proves it has nothing for adults.
Disney Plus’ more narrow focus makes it a great supplemental streaming service, but I'd never recommend it to someone who was looking to subscribe to just one (which is one of the reasons why my colleague Henry T. Casey argued that Disney Plus was on the canceling block for March 2022). In that scenario, Netflix would be the obvious choice as it offers a wide breadth of content across basically all categories.
If Disney Plus truly wants to compete with Netflix, and all the noise from Disney execs certainly suggests it does, then the service needs greater content variety. The addition of MA-TV rated shows would be a large step towards that. This is the first time that Disney Plus has added something that is explicitly for the grown ups — that’s a big deal, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
How the other half lives
I speak about how game changing Disney Plus adding more mature content could be from a position of experience. I live in the UK, and over here the service has been transformed since the inclusion of the Star channel (which sits alongside the Marvel, Star Wars, Disney, Pixar and National Geographic 'channels') in early 2021.
This additional category is basically the home of adult content on Disney Plus in select international markets. There's plenty to watch from every season of The Walking Dead to recent movies like The King’s Man and The Last Duel. Star is probably the main reason that Disney Plus has kept my monthly subscription fee for the last several months.
Of course, we can’t talk about Disney Plus and mature content without acknowledging the big green elephant in the room. No, not The Hulk, but Hulu. Star is used as a way to distribute Hulu original content in territories like the U.K. and other regions. For example, Hulu originals like Pam & Tommy and Dopesick are Star originals over here.
It’s unlikely that Disney will look to merge Hulu and Disney Plus anytime soon but the inclusion of Star in international markets does at least prove that a hybrid streaming service is possible, not to mention highly beneficial for subscribers. Hopefully, it’s a goal that Disney eventually works towards in the U.S. as well.
If Disney truly wants to reach its goal of 230-260 million subscribers (opens in new tab) by 2024 (currently it's at just shy of 130m), then it will need to bring stronger content variety to the U.S. It's possible the service will struggle to hold subscriber attention in the long term with its current exclusive focus on family-friendly content. Especially since its output of Marvel and Star Wars originals doesn't suggest it can always have a new show debuting.
Hopefully the addition of Netflix’s Marvel shows is Disney testing the waters with a view to add more TV-MA content in the future. While some parents groups have criticized Disney (opens in new tab) for diluting their service’s squeaky clean image by adding content such as Daredevil, more choice is never a bad thing from where I’m standing.