With Disney+ now up and running in the UK, there’s plenty of stuff available to watch – but worries over how much is coming down the line soon.
On March 24th, many months after its US bow, Disney+ finally landed in the UK. It did so with a beefy catalogue of movies and TV shows, and a fair few originals too. Chief amongst them being the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and the live action remake of Lady & The Tramp.
Of course, these have been available in the US since before Christmas, as has the smattering of exclusive shows and films currently on the service. But quiet alarm bells have been ringing as to what’s next in the US, and those are inevitably soon to be heard in the UK too. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic shut down productions around the world, questions were being asked as to just how much original material Disney was bringing to it huge gamble streaming service, and bluntly, whether it was going to be enough.
Earlier this year, Disney’s long time chief Bob Iger resigned the top job at the firm– he had been due to hand it over – and declared that instead, he was going hands on with creative work for the company. And top of his to-do list looks like being the Disney+ service.
Streaming is a huge new market for Disney, and for a change, it’s not one it’s leading from the front on. Already, it’s in a slight corner given that it has a self-enforced PG-13 top end for its material. That’s already seen shows such as Love, Victor and High Fidelity brush against Disney’s assessment of whether they’d be suitable for the service (it’s elected to send them to Hulu in the US, that it also owns).
But also, as Netflix has shown, streaming services ultimately rely not on the back catalogue of movies and shows to lure in new viewers, but in having a constant procession of new material that’s exclusive. Netflix, each week, has something new hitting its service, some of which have gone on to hit big.
The problem now facing Disney+ is that is absolutely doesn’t have that. In fact, for the foreseeable future, the cupboard looks rather bare. The strategy around the time of the service being announced was said to be at least five new films a year and five television series, as well as some unscripted productions.
Getting those shows off the ground is proving troublesome, though. The Mandalorian aside, and the well-received High School Musical show, the roster is looking surprisingly sparse for the next six to eight months. The Star Wars Obi-Wan show has been delayed, and the next big release on the streaming service is set to be the six-episode The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, the first of many planned Marvel shows. Yet that wasn’t due until August, and now filming has been shut down, the likelihood is that date will shift. As such, it may yet be that the biggest production on Disney+ for 2020 will be season two of The Mandalorian, again assuming it can be shot in time. B
ut longer term, can Disney+ really rely on one or two shows to keep it growing?
On the film side, the movies for the service are coming with budgets that top out at around $40-50m apiece. This is at a time when Netflix will give Martin Scorsese and Michael Bay at least three times that each for big films, that it’ll then heavily promote with extensive advertising campaigns. Whilst Disney can bank on brand value – the new Home Alone film is all but guaranteed to be watched, no matter what the internet says – its Disney+ films aren’t otherwise of size to attract a large audience easily.
The next new originals for the service are some welcome nature documentaries, one of which is bound to annoy certain UK tabloids…
— Disney+ (@disneyplus) March 26, 2020
It’s a difficult business that Disney has launched itself into, and gambled hard with. It’s got users in the UK primarily locked in for a year, courtesy of aggressive opening offers, and that buys time for what’s very much a long game. But conversely, there’s a limit to how many times Avengers, Frozen and Star Wars can be watched (well, for those of us with young children, less so Frozen). And without a regular flow of new material, it’s tricky to see how it can grow its audience to numbers close to those of Netflix. Nobody doubts it’ll get that new material, it’s just surprising there’s not more of it on the imminent horizon.
Disney+ is no failure, that much is clear. But with a reported $500m budget for making fresh material every year in its first 12 months, it’ll be spending less on its entire annual programming than Amazon will be throwing at just two seasons of its planned Lord Of The Rings series, by way of contrast.
Netflix, by way of contrast, spent $15bn in 2019 to keep its pipeline stacked, and Apple is expected to be spending around $6bn at least.
Streaming is, as Disney is already learning, a very different business to those it’s excelled in previously. It relies on a steady, regular stream of new shows – some of which are high profile – to both keep people locked in, and attract new subscribers. Whilst the platform it’s built is clearly excellent, and the first raft of material ample to keep people busy, as things stand it’ll start to look a bit less impressive by the summer. That said, write Disney – and its service – off at your peril. You just may need to bear with it…
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