Disney are locked and loaded on a new path that will transform the entertainment industry, pitting themselves against competitors Netflix, with their Disney+ streaming service that launches on November 12th.
During the first weekend of October, Bob Iger took a break from his book tour and fired up an episode of a television series about two years in the making. The Mandalorian won’t be released until November, but Iger had just received the finished first episode of the Jon Favreau space Western, which follows Pedro Pascal’s bounty hunter on a new adventure through the Star Wars universe. No surprise, he loved it. “[There’s] nothing like it on the air,” Iger tells THR a few days later. “If you’re going to do a live-action Star Wars series, this is the way to do it.”
With Mandalorian, Iger is setting course for a destination even more distant than a galaxy far, far away. The series’ Nov. 12 premiere marks liftoff for Disney+, his multibillion-dollar attempt to break free from the cable TV shackles that have kept his business earthbound and directly challenge streaming leader Netflix and its 152 million global subscribers.
Over the past two years, Iger has been singularly focused on reorienting The Walt Disney Company, founded in 1923 at the dawn of the motion picture industry, for its streaming future. He’s invested $2.6 billion to acquire the necessary technology, shuffled his executive ranks to create a new direct-to-consumer division, forgone $150 million in annual income by ending the studio’s output deal with Netflix and even spent $71.3 billion for the 21st Century Fox assets to beef up Disney’s production capabilities and content library. Though it’s a risky bet for a company that most recently generated $6.7 billion in quarterly revenue from its legacy television business, Iger argues that it would have been a bigger risk to sit back and do nothing as customers ditch cable for streaming options. “This is necessary,” he says. “The risk would have been essentially maintaining a status quo approach to how we were managing our content.”
With its plan to distribute directly to consumers, Disney is a key instigator of what has exploded into an all-out war for streaming dominance. Disney+ is one of the first in a string of new services, including Apple TV+, HBO Max (from AT&T) and Peacock (Comcast), expected to roll out over the next six months. But Disney+ will be hard to top: For $7 per month, customers will have access to nearly 500 Disney titles (from classics like Sleeping Beauty to modern hits like Moana); more than 7,500 episodes of television, including all 30 seasons of The Simpsons; a suite of such original films as a Lady and the Tramp reboot starring Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux; and new TV series like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. “Disney is betting the whole company on streaming,” says Jeffrey Cole, director of the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future. “You can feel [them putting] pedal to the metal.”
Disney+ will launch as a completely realized product. The promise of 35 originals in the first year alongside a mix of kids’ programming, old Star Wars films and, eventually, the full Marvel library was enough to cause lines to form inside the Anaheim Convention Center at fan event D23 in late August as people signed up for the service. (A limited 33 percent discount on a three-year subscription may have helped juice signups, too.) “The early response has been great,” notes Iger. Still, despite the high volume of interest from parents whose children watch Frozen on repeat and lifelong Star Wars fans who will pay for the full Skywalker saga, there’s lingering doubt about how Disney+ will entice more casual fans to sign up. Ponders Cole, “They’re always going to have the kids, but can they keep the late teens and the adults?”
Disney executives are, not surprisingly, downplaying the challenges. The company is projecting between 60 million and 90 million global subscribers by 2024, more than the 28 million U.S. members that Hulu currently has and in line with the 83 million that Netflix had within five years of separating its streaming subscription service from its DVD plans. “We like the hand we have,” says Kevin Mayer, who leads Disney+ as chairman of the company’s direct-to-consumer and international division. “We’ve collected some of the most preeminent brands in the entertainment sphere and we’re using them aggressively. We have the timing. We have the right price point.”
Read the article in full at The Hollywood Reporter.