Compared to competitors like Netflix or Apple TV Plus, Disney+ is uniquely situated. It’s not a new space where viewers can watch a wide, varied selection; rather, it’s a play to sell customers what they already know.
Disney’s lineup of originals isn’t as important as the hundreds of movies and thousands of TV show episodes it will launch with on day one. Almost every chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be available to stream. The same goes for the Skywalker saga and the entire Pixar library. Subscribers can binge-watch every High School Musical movie and revisit classic shows like That’s So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Hannah Montana.
Former Amazon Studios strategist and industry expert Matthew Ball put it best in an essay on Redef: “Disney’s brand is self-evident and requires no education.” It doesn’t have to peddle the idea of what people will get for $7 a month. Many would-be subscribers are already loyal Disney customers. They spend money at movie theaters to watch the new Frozen installment or Star Wars movie; theme park day outings are organized with friends and family; Spider-Man T-shirts are bought and Olaf plushies are gifted. These customers are already within Disney’s ecosystem. Subscribing to Disney+ becomes the obvious next step.
“Disney+ will allow Disney to grow and incubate fan affinity in new ways,” Ball wrote in a separate essay. “Through series such as WandaVision and Ms. Marvel, the company will be able to grow awareness of and love for lesser-known/beloved characters without needing to release films that need to hit $500 million just to break even.”
Executives at the company are aware of their treasure trove. CEO Bob Iger has told investors over the last several months that Disney’s franchises are the company’s crown jewel when it comes to building a subscriber base. “We’re starting from a position of strength, confidence, and unbridled optimism,” Iger told investors during a media day for Disney+ in April. Many of those franchises are perfect for families and cord-cutters who may not want to rely on YouTube to entertain children.
It’s not just good for families, however. A recent study provided to The Verge by UTA IQ, United Talent Agency’s data and analytics group, found that families are no more or less likely to subscribe to Disney+ than households without children. Limited testing in the Netherlands yielded similar results for Disney executives — something they were equally surprised and excited to discover.
Kevin Mayer, Disney’s head of direct-to-consumer product, told a group of reporters in New York last week that it was a “really nice affirmation” that Disney+ would appeal to people other than kids. “The one thing that we could be somewhat concerned about is that people will think about Disney+ because of the Disney brand as a kids and family service only,” Mayer said. “And it’s really not. We’re positioning it to be very different than that.”
Other companies are trying to copy Disney’s success. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming services are currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get the streaming rights back for their own shows. Friends cost WarnerMedia $450 million, while The Big Bang Theory reportedly cost between $500 million and $1 billion. NBCUniversal also apparently spent more than $500 million to get the streaming rights back for The Office.
Having big franchises that people want in their lives is crucial not only for succeeding as a company but also for subscribers. That’s part of what made Netflix so successful when Disney, WarnerMedia, and NBCUniversal were licensing their series and films to the service. Now, Netflix is trying to build its library, including by finding its own successful franchises. Think of Stranger Things, a show that a large portion of Netflix’s audience enjoys, but even more. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, acknowledged in a recent investors call that “established IP has a leg up with consumers.”
“We see the value of franchises like Stranger Things and Black Mirror… but great stories are what matter and the way that they reach consumers,” Sarandos said.
When Disney+ launched, in the wee hours of the morning on November 12th, Twitter lit up with screenshots of new Disney+ subscribers eagerly streaming the first episode of The Mandalorian. In the hours that passed, those screenshots turned into people rediscovering classic movies they missed out on, like 1941’s Dumbo; childhood favorites like The Lion King; or TV series like X-Men: Evolution or Darkwing Duck that they haven’t watched in years. As Disney+’s launch morning rolled on, what became very apparent was that people just wanted to embrace the shows and movies they grew up with. That’s a weapon that only Disney can wield.
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