After The Mandalorian ended, Disney+ subscribers were left wondering what to watch next.
The Simpsons is one popular option. There are Marvel and Star Wars movies to watch, but how many times can someone watch Captain America: Civil War? Customers grew restless, and people began talking about how Disney+ had little to offer for people without kids. It’s a concern that investors raised with Disney CEO Bob Iger in yesterday’s earnings call, but Iger waved off the complaints.
“Clearly, the original shows that we decided to invest in, led by The Mandalorian, have worked,” Iger said. “We knew when we launched that we were launching with a modest amount of original programming and that it would build over time. So as we look ahead, we’re really comfortable with volume ... I think the best thing about it all is that the decision that we made to go with quality and not just volume is working.”
Disney+ has hundreds of TV shows and even more movies, so it’s not like the app is empty. The issue is that viewers are used to Netflix speed at this point: on Netflix, it feels like nearly every week a new show or two appears. There are reality series, prestige dramas, romantic comedies, kids shows, and everything else under the sun. Ironically, Netflix subscribers face a polar opposite issue — there’s so much to choose from, they enter a state of decision paralysis. Not everything on Netflix is good, but it doesn’t have to be; it just has to be new.
Disney isn’t playing that game. Nor does it have any intention to do so in the future. Iger didn’t want to get into specifics about how many people are watching Disney+ on a daily or weekly basis, and how many are watching things that aren’t The Mandalorian or The Simpsons, but said the ongoing engagement rate was “extremely high.” He added that engagement beat their expectations, noting that “65 percent of the people who watch Mandalorian watch at least 10 other things on the service.” His point? Disney doesn’t have to increase its annual content budget to produce more in order to keep up with Netflix. No one, Iger reiterated to investors, is Disney.
“There’s obviously more competition coming into the space, but there isn’t any competition that is like ours,” Iger said.
Disney+’s output strategy is more similar to HBO than Netflix. Having a big show or two every quarter looks like the goal. These will come from the company’s four main studio silos: Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and Disney. Eventually, every couple of months will see a show’s season end and another one begin, like how HBO operates its calendar year. Iger noted he values quality over quantity — a key talking point that HBO executives like Casey Bloys and former HBO head Richard Plepler have stressed. Netflix also wants high-quality shows, but because of its binge release method and a constant demand for more from subscribers, Netflix has to continuously produce every single week.
The slower strategy means that Disney risks losing subscribers who are willing to drop in and out between seasons of their favorites. But Iger had an answer for that, too. He told investors that Disney+’s bundle with ESPN+ and Hulu was “very helpful in terms of lowering churn rates,” meaning it cut down on subscriber losses because the other services still had plenty to watch.
Executives are aware that subscriber loss is a part of the industry — Hulu even issued a blog post last fall that essentially boiled down to “we understand you’re going to come and go.” Iger specified Disney+’s subscriber losses, at least during its early launch months, were “much better than we expected they would be and much better than we had estimated they would be before we launched.”
Still, executives know they have to continue wooing subscribers, and Iger’s call made that perfectly clear. Announcing release dates for Marvel’s anticipated series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision, alongside The Mandalorian’s second season sends a clear message: the service has a ton of stuff that people without kids should stick around for.
If they don’t, Disney isn’t particularly worried right now. It has a not-so-secret-weapon: Hulu. Kevin Mayer, Disney’s head of direct-to-consumer content and the man who oversees all of Disney+, said at a conference last fall that even with a sizable number of “adult entry points” on Disney+, part of the goal with bundling Hulu and ESPN+ is to keep people inside Disney’s streaming ecosystem. Disney owns ESPN and controls Hulu. Even if people aren’t using Disney+ every day, with the bundle they’ll still register as a subscriber and will likely spend time on Hulu and ESPN+. It’s a win-win-win for Disney.
Simply put, Disney had a very good 2019. It also had a very good January, adding more than 2 million Disney+ subscribers last month alone. Iger told investors not to expect another year like 2019, but Disney+ remains the company’s biggest priority. Mayer once said “not everyone will succeed” in the streaming space, adding that “between three and six” companies will find success in the coming years. Disney wants to be at the top of that list, but isn’t going to try to adopt Netflix’s output to do so.