The much-anticipated Disney+ streaming service officially launched on Tuesday in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. In the first 24 hours, the app was downloaded 3.2 million times. Demand for the new over-the-top streaming service prompted the company to announced that it had exceeded its highest expectations — but with problematic results.
Many users were unable to launch the app on its huge openingday. Forty-two percent of users had problems just logging in, while 57 percentreported video streaming issues, according to Internet traffic monitoring site Downdetector.
Those who had problems connecting took to social media to complain,and a common refrain was that even when they could log on and startstreaming, the service crashed repeatedly. However, there was somelevity as well.
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Much of this is par for the course when it comes to streamingservices, which all too quickly can overwhelm a provider’s ability todeliver content. HBO Go and HBO Now, the streaming services of pay-TVgiant HBO, experienced crashes during the season premieres and seasonfinales of True Detective and Game of Thrones — and in those cases it was a single program that triggered a temporary outage.
“Some teething problems aren’t unexpected,” said Dan Cryan, principal analyst at MTM London.
“They had a fantastic number of subscribers, and the problems thatusers experienced are unlikely to be a long-term issue unless itpersists,” he told TechNewsWorld.
However, it isn’t clear — problems aside — how many of thosecustomers will remain for the long run.
“The numbers are meaningless at this point,” suggested Colin Dixon, principal analyst at nScreen Media.
“There were a number of offers that essentially created anartificially high spike of users,” he told TechNewsWorld.
House of the Rising Mouse
The arrival of Disney+ could be the biggest game changer in the OTTspace, simply because of the sheer volume of content it offers.Disney+ is home to content from Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox,Marvel Studios, Pixar and Lucasfilm. It is the home for Star Wars, Marvel superheroes and The Simpsons.
Out of the gate, subscribers already gained access to more than 500movies and 7,500 TV episodes — including new exclusive programming — andthat number will increase over the next few years. This breadth ofcontent could give the Mouse House a major advantage over rivalstreaming services that have entered the market in recent years, andcould put Disney+ toe-to-toe with industry giant Netflix.
At present Disney+ is available for US$7 a month in the United States, or$70 a year, which breaks down to $5.83 a month. That is less than Netflix’s low end rate of $9 a month, but it should be noted that Disney+ offers four simultaneous streams aswell as 4K/UHD content. The pricing is about half the fee for HBONow, or the upcoming HBO Max.
“The free offers and the $7 price are helping inflate the numbers, butthey probably won’t keep that price for long,” said Dixon.
In addition to those who are paying for the service, Verizon limitedwireless customers are being treated to a free year of Disney+, a factthat could help explain Tuesday’s outages.
“There were other numerous deals for those who signed up early,including ‘park pass’ and Disney credit card holders — so building upto launch there were ways to get it for even less than $7,” said MTM’s Cryan.
“This is important, because if you are trying to build scale quicklyyou need to be aggressive in pricing,” he added. “It is entirelypossible that the pricing will go up. The library is impressive now,but they haven’t really gotten into the commissioning process for moreoriginal content, and a few movies released over the summer aren’t yetavailable. As this content arrives, the prices could change to reflectit.”
Since announcing the service, Disney+ has received solid device support– and will be available via a plethora of devices that include AmazonFire TV devices, Apple TV, iPhone iPad, Android handsets/tablets/TVs,Google Chromecast devices, Roku boxes/sticks, Samsung and LG smartTVs, and video game consoles, including Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’sPlayStation 4.
“Disney followed the base rule for launching any form of music/videodelivery service, and that is going to where the customers are,” saidCryan.
This is a playbook other services also have followed successfully.
“Apple+ isn’t going to be restricted to Apple devices, just as PrimeVideo isn’t restricted to Amazon devices — but it did take quite awhile for Apple and Amazon to work out a deal,” Cryan observed.
“However, for Disney+, support on all these platforms was all butguaranteed,” he noted. “Now, that said, it is less clear from what weknow at this moment whether a service like NBC’s Peacock will havethis support when it launches.”
Disney+ is also unique in that at launch it provided unlimited mobiledownloads for offline viewing. Subscribers can download toas many as 10 mobile devices, including tablets. There is no limit tothe number of titles that can be downloaded for offline viewing.
“We need to be clear that you still don’t ‘own’ the content youdownload, in that you own it only until you stop subscribing,” saidCryan.
Other services already are taking this approach.
“Apple+ will be generous about downloading content to devices out ofthe gate, and Netflix lets you download their original content — butnotably not the Disney content on Netflix,” Cryan pointed out.
The importance of the ability to download vs. stream could depend on themarket. In cities where people commute by public transportation itcould matter more.
“We’ve seen in cities like London, people download a lot of content todevices — but in America, where people drive to work, it may matterless,” said Cryan. “Right now the ability to download content is notreally a large driver for subscribers, but it still adds value to theproduct.”
The New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Service
Disney+ arrived with a huge amount of content from the Disney archives, as well as from the other companies under its corporate umbrella, but today streaming services rely heavily on original content to draw in subscribers.
In this case Disney+ has pulled out the sci-fi guns with TheMandalorian, one of the biggest-budget series to date. Set in the StarWars universe after Return of the Jedi, it stars Pedro Pascal –who starred on HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s Narcos — as a bounty hunter. The show promises to be a mix of the Star Wars saga and a Clint Eastwood western.
Another Star Wars series, a prequel to the film Rogue One, is in the works.
The streaming service also has lined up a “magnificent” seven live-action series, based on Marvel superheroes, the first of which will arrive next year.
“We need to see what happens to the subscribers after they’ve watchedThe Mandalorian,” said nScreen Media’s Dixon.
“People could flee the service, and it isn’t clear that those who arecoming for Star Wars and The Avengers are going to stick around for Beauty and the Beast,” he added.
It could be wrong to dismiss Disney+ as a “geek-oriented” service, just “because they have Avengers: Endgame, the highest-grossing film of all time,” remarked Cryan.
“Yes, it is easy to think of Star Wars and Marvel as geeky, but lookat the box office, and they massively dominate it,” he added.
“More importantly the Disney brand has a strategy mixture of ‘kids andprincess’ films in one bucket, and Star Wars and Marvel in another; butthey also have the NAT GEO content, which fits with the animaldocumentaries they’ve done successfully for years,” Cryan pointed out. “Together this is as broad as possible.”
Where Disney+ could draw in subscribers beyond the Star Wars andsuperhero fans is with its archival content, which includes TVprogramming such as The Simpsons and, of course, the animated films inthe Disney vaults.
“This is why the core group that will come and stay could be thefamilies with young children,” said Dixon.
The ability to download those movies could give kids a way to watchand rewatch those films on an endless loop.
“Parents can subscribe, download whatever film the kids want to seeonto a phone or tablet, and press play whenever they go out,” Dixonsuggested.
“However, the most important thing to keep the rest of the subscribersis going to be content, and Disney could be stretched thin,” he said.”Disney might be the biggest content producer — but unlike Netflix orAmazon they have other brands, including cable channels, to bringcontent to.”
Beyond the glitches on launch day, Disney+ faced a bit of backlash forits handling of its vintage content, some of which arrivedwith a warning that viewers could encounter “outdated culturaldepictions.”
This warning was included in the descriptions forsuch content as Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats.
“This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions,” Disney’s description states.
Disney+ has not explained officially what the outdated depictions are,but it is likely they are racial stereotypes embodied in certain characters and even in some songs — notably the “We Are Siamese” song included in the original 1955version of Lady and The Tramp, but wisely removed and replaced in thenewly released live action version.
“Disney handled this as well as could be expected — Dumbo is a goodexample, as it is beloved film, but on the other hand literally features ‘Jim Crow,’ so it is a difficult needle to thread,” said Cryan.
“It seems like a reasonable approach that was well thought through, as it gives fans what they want, while appealing to modern sensibilities,” he added.
One film that Disney+ viewers shouldn’t expect to see is the 1946 release of Song of South — about the only “classic” from the Disney vaults not to be released on home video in the U.S.
What It Means for Netflix
With so much original and archival content available, Disney+ has anadvantage over Apple TV+, which debuted earlier this month. Disney+ also could be a major competitor to Netflix. The licensing of content will come into play.
Netflix has been the home to many Disney films, including the Marvelreleases and the latest Star Wars titles, and most of thosewill be making a jump — not to lightspeed but to Disney+. This couldimpact Netflix a bit.
It is complicated, as some of the Disney films released from 2016 to2018 could move to Disney+ only to return to Netflix in a few years.However, the Disney catalog should be built up by then — and Disney+ and Netflix could likely live side-by-side as streaming services.
Netflix may have reached as many households as it can.
“As that happens, there is the risk of churn, and as significant contentis available on other platforms that risk of churning goes up,” saidCryan.
Netflix does have a huge lead, and it understands the competition fromother services.
“They are entering a more competitive market, but Netflix won’t likelysee a drop in subscribers,” Cryan predicted.
“However, the tide is turning, and this comes as other services nowcost less money, so Netflix as the best value is being eroded,”he explained. “However, it will be interesting to see if Disney+maintains its momentum in the coming months.”