Disney Plus is Everything I Don’t Want in a Streaming Service
It seems like every week there’s a new movie, or documentary trending. They almost always come from streaming services, and there’s no denying the mass appeal of the streaming model.
Now, everyone wants a piece of the pie. Recent contenders in the streaming game have seen moderate levels of success with one exception: Disney Plus. The number of paid subscribers has been reported to have topped 28 million by February 2020, putting the service ahead of Hulu.
After a few months of having Disney Plus as an option, I just don’t get it. I don’t see the appeal, and I actually think Disney Plus has potential to ruin some of the best things about streaming.
Though I must confess a level of bias, or perhaps a lack of bias. I didn’t grow up under the allure of Disney, but I am quite familiar with the company. I watched the movies as a child, and the first movie I saw in theaters was Aladdin. I watched The Disney Channel as a preteen, but that’s about the extent of our relationship. I don’t have childhood memories at the Magic Kingdom nor do I own the soundtrack to every animated Disney film. Fantasy films and superhero movies were never my favorites: not before Disney owned Star Wars and Marvel, and not after.
Maybe I’m not in the target audience, and maybe Disney Plus isn’t meant for me, but anytime Disney puts their thumbprint on a product it has the power to change the industry.
Why Is Disney Plus Successful?
When it comes to Disney, name alone is enough. In case the name “Disney” isn’t enough, they bought a few more. Marvel, Star Wars, Fox, and National Geographic, to be exact. If you’re a fan of any one of those brands then $7/month or $70/year seems like a reasonable price.
You get access to a huge catalogue from these brands plus some of their original shows. In November, when the service first launched, my social media timelines were filled with people watching Disney movies and remembering their childhood. The next month, those same timelines were filled with Baby Yoda memes from The Mandalorian. The impact from Disney Plus was noticeable, and it seemed like people were eating up the content.
People have an attachment to Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel. On launch day, Disney Plus had a lot of content available, even pushing up their release of Avengers Endgame to ensure people were excited. Plus they had the first episode of the Mandalorian, and the entire Simpsons catalog thanks to thier acquisition of Fox. The addition of The Simpsons seemed promising, as Marvel or Star Wars fans aren’t necessarily in the same demographic as viewers of Lizzie McGuire or Snow White. It seems like Disney Plus offers something for everyone, until they don’t.
If you’ve heard anyone talking about Disney Plus original content, “Baby Yoda” was likely uttered in the same sentence. The Mandalorian is their biggest name and most likely a huge selling point for a lot of Disney Plus subscribers. To a smaller degree, I hear people talking about High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (typing out the name made me recognize how uninspired the title is), but most of the discussion centers around The Mandalorian. Other offerings seem to be documentaries or animated shorts, but I’ve never heard any discussions about them in my daily life.
I’m not a Star Wars fanatic, but I have no problem with people watching it or subscribing to Disney Plus for The Madalorian. My true issues lies within the release of The Mandalorian. Viewers receive new episodes each week, not in one bingeable package. That is the best thing about streaming, binge-watching. If I can’t do that, I’d much rather stick to cable. Give me the service that makes streaming unique, or give me nothing at all.
I see what Disney is doing. Lure people in with a free trial, and then they’re hooked on an incomplete series. So, they continue to subscribe until they get to the end of The Madalorian. Then they keep watching content, or forget to unsubscribe. Either outcome is fine because a paid subscriber who doesn’t watch anything is still paying.
Now that Disney Plus has tens of millions of subscribers, I worry more streaming services will use the weekly-release model. It would guarantee at least two months of paid subscriptions to get through the series, and and all services want that. However, I’m not so sure a juggernaut like Netflix will need to rely on weekly-content because they have one thing that Disney Plus lacks: enough content.
Disney Plus’s Library
Upon it’s release, Disney Plus gave viewers a dive into the Disney Vault. Almost anything they wanted to watch was available, and a sense of nostalgia rushed over viewers.
Now, we’re four months in. April 2020 will be an important month for streaming as the majority of American children are stuck indoors due to the COVID-19 health crisis. Disney responded by releasing Frozen 2 and Onward on Disney Plus early. This is a good decision for the company, and children will appreciate having these title. The other, regularly scheduled, releases in April are quite underwhelming. What else is there to watch? 1998’s Dr. Dolittle? 2004’s National Treasure? Both of those movies are fine, but they’re older.
With services like Netflix or Hulu the potential library is seemingly limitless. Every month Netflix watches some licenses expire and new programs join as replacements. When it comes to Disney Plus, their potential library is quite limited.
Disney Plus is built upon the assumption that viewers rewatch content. It’s a fair assumption, because I know very few Toy Story or Star Wars fans who have watched their favorite movie a single time. If you look at other streaming services, their assumptions aren’t the same. Netflix is known for the algorithm to expose you to new media and Hulu makes you select preferences when you create a profile so they can recommend new shows to you.
If it wasn’t for the early releases, we wouldn’t have much exciting coming to Disney Plus in April. Due to these releases, I anticipate the next few months will continue to provide underwhelming additions and Disney Plus will start to feel more stale.
Will Disney Plus Survive?
I don’t see Disney Plus going away any time soon, but I worry about their impact on other streaming services. Disney has a lot of control over the media we consume in America, and their subscriber count allows them to have influence over other streaming platforms.
Disney has enough loyal fans that Disney Plus could survive without releasing much new content. They could get lazy and stay afloat. Plus, Disney will always have a young audience. Not only will there always be more toddlers coming into the world, but this population loves to rewatch movies. Then they watch them again. And then one more time just so they can drive their parents crazy.
This ability to stay afloat is what concerns me most. Disney can do whatever they want and other services pay attention. As they do this, they begin to take away the features that once made streaming unique. Other services will see what Disney can get away with and hope they can cut the same corners.
Disney Plus is the first major streaming service I’ve observed with a very limited library. With more streaming services on the horizon, I expect major content distributors to have limits on the titles they can offer. Disney Plus will be the trendsetter for NBC’s Peacock or HBO Max. Perhaps they too will start to release new episode weekly rather than in bulk.
I know it’s a choice to subscribe to Disney Plus, and I am not going to spend my money subscribing. Their limited library hinders their ability to recommend new content to me, something that once made Netflix really fun. More importantly, they’re setting a precedent that could take away binge watching. I know, I could wait for the whole season to be released before watching, but there are two problems. One, spoilers. Two, I don’t want to.
As a consumer, I see Disney making changes that negatively impact my streaming experience. I don’t want to support that unless they can convince me otherwise. Maybe if Disney released an entire season of the new Lizzie McGuire overnight I’ll reconsider. Otherwise, I’ll stick with Netflix.