At first, Thursday’s Disney’s Investor Day presentation, during which the company finally took the wraps off its Disney+ streaming service, threatened to turn into a repeat performance of Apple’s own event two weeks earlier, in which that company promised to share details about its own upcoming direct-to-consumer offering, but never followed through. So there was a feeling of déjà vu early on as Disney execs talked about how they “couldn’t wait” to show the audience more, before moving on to the next topic without doing so.
But then, something shocking happened—or at least, shocking compared to how little information Apple had parceled out earlier: Disney actually brought the goods. There were lengthy clips from new series like its live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian (well, at least those in attendance at the studio lot in Burbank, Calif. event could watch). There was an in-depth look at the platform’s user experience. There was a comprehensive rundown of all the content—both library and original—that will appear on Disney+. And most importantly, there was a launch date (Nov. 12) and a price announcement (just $6.99 per month, or $69.99 a year).
In that three-hour event, Disney managed to succeed in all the ways that Apple had failed just two weeks earlier—while simultaneously throwing down the gauntlet for its other rivals who are planning on rolling out streaming services of their own in the next year (Comcast, AT&T, Discovery and Apple): try and top this!
Because as streamaggedon hits in the next year—as all those new streaming offerings enter an already overcrowded space that includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access and every premium cable network’s OTT platform—consumers will be forced to make some brutal decisions about which streaming services they will subscribe to each month.
Many top execs in the streaming industry agree that most households will only be able to afford two or three of these services at the most, meaning that the freshman OTT crop will have to be impressive, and essential, enough to hold their own with the veterans who have been stocking their libraries for several years already.
And with its impressive presentation Thursday, Disney managed to do just that. On the library content front, it boasted some big numbers: more than 7,500 television episodes and 500 films in its first year: including family-friendly titles from both Disney and the company’s newly-acquired Fox movie and TV studios. Much of the content will be organized into the company’s five major pillars—Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and National Geographic—which when it comes to pop culture, are as about as essential as it gets. And, in a surprise announcement, the service will include 30 seasons of The Simpsons, which until now had been available for streaming only via the FX Now app.
Its original slate is also massive: in its first year, Disney+ will stream more than 25 original series, as well as 10 films, documentaries and specials. Many of those offerings will be irresistible to kids: a new Star Wars series, multiple Marvel shows starring characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a High School Musical series, a show based on the Monsters, Inc. characters, a Phineas and Ferb movie and a live-action Lady and the Tramp movie. On its launch date alone, Disney+ will have nine exclusive TV series, movies and documentaries.
Contrast that with Apple, whose underwhelming presentation was so generic that it could have applied to nearly any network or streaming outlet in the premium content business. (Indeed, many of the A-list names that Apple paraded onstage—including Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and JJ Abrams—have multiple TV projects with other outlets.)
Apple shared no information about pricing, a release date, which shows would be available at launch, whether its offering will include any library content or whether episodes would be released weekly or binge-style. And the one piece of actual information, that it would be called Apple TV+e, was a huge letdown (come on, another streaming service with “plus” in the title? You’re better than that, Apple.)
And then, for Disney’s final mic drop Thursday, there was the reveal of Disney+’s price: just $6.99 per month for ad-free access to what the company hopes will ultimately be every Disney movie and TV show ever made. The annual price is roughly half of what Netflix’s most popular tier costs, and it’s only $1 a month more than what Hulu and CBS All Access charge for similar services that includes limited ads. (Speaking of Hulu, Disney expects to bundle Disney+ with its other streaming services, Hulu and ESPN+, making the cost even cheaper.)
The lower-than-expected price drew audible gasps from attendees, and likely its rivals as well: it is highly unlikely that any of the streaming newbies will be able to offer a compelling product, at least out of the gate, that can match Disney’s original and library offerings, at that price point.
(This also makes Viacom’s decision, as detailed in this week’s cover story, to choose another streaming path and purchase the free, ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV and make that platform the cornerstone of its OTT strategy, even smarter.)
Let’s make another thing clear: none of these new services, Disney+ included, have a chance of going head-to-head with Netflix and its 139 million global subscribers, at least not for several years. (Disney is projecting 60 to 90 million subscribers by 2024, two-thirds of which it says will be international.)
But that doesn’t matter. The streaming space isn’t winner-take-all, and there will be room for more than one provider at the table. But there probably isn’t going to be room for everyone, and by presenting an offering with equally potent original and library content, Disney has just raised the bar sky-high for everyone else who will be jumping on the OTT bandwagon in the next year.
We still don’t know anything about the original offerings AT&T, Comcast or Discovery will have. But unless they come to market with a slate that can holds its own with what Disney trotted out (and Apple doesn’t seem to be measuring up yet, judging from the brief clips we saw two weeks ago), those companies could be in for a bumpy entry into the steaming world.