How Disney brings a lightsaber into the arena of streaming wars
We are all too familiar with the ‘endless scroll’, the phenomena that comes into play whenever we decide to entertain ourselves by watching a film or series. If you are not watching by yourself and you have a companion that also has his or her fierce opinion on what genre to choose, it becomes an agonizing activity to decide what to watch. To complicate this familiar matter, Disney’s upcoming streaming service called Disney+ will introduce you to 7,500 episodes and 500 films from their library (@Disney). Disney+ was launched for testing exclusively in the Netherlands this month and this launch is best described as a new seat at the already overcrowded table of streaming services. It is important to know exactly what this launch means for the streaming services industry. What may seem like even more choice in content for the consumer – or more indecisiveness while scrolling – could also be interpreted as an offensive on Netflix in the ongoing streaming wars. I will first explain what Disney+ is promising to deliver when it launches globally in November, and then try to examine why it is that we have yet another platform to subscribe to.
Disney’s own streaming service
Disney+ is essentially giving us five main channels of their self-owned content to choose from: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. Users can subscribe to their service for €6,99 per month and create up to seven profiles on their account. The new platform runs as a free pilot in the Netherlands, and is expected to officially launch on November 12th, if the launch can survive the risk of overload and crashing (Alexander).
I won’t go into much detail about the specific contents of the platform, for example is of if not The Mandalorian is already available, – spoiler: it is not – but rather focus on why exactly Disney decided to bring forward their own streaming service, how they will set themselves apart from other streaming platforms and what the consequences of this strategy are.
Battle for exclusive content
The launch of Disney+ is Disney’s answer to the rapidly changing landscape of television-viewing. Over the past couple of years there has been a shift from pure wholesome business models for media companies to direct-to-consumer strategies (Littleton). Users derive value from higher quality content (Panico and Cennamo), and to stand out in a crowded field, streaming services have to invest in producing original content. Disney+ will set itself apart form other streaming services by counting on the exclusivity factor of selected Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney-branded properties to drive interest in the service (Littleton). Yet counting on exclusive content is a strategy that is adopted by all streaming services. Disney recently hired Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to produce their own Star Wars trilogy. This is a very interesting move in the ongoing streaming wars, considering that Netflix has also signed Benioff and Weiss for a $200 million multi-year film and tv deal (State). Another tactic that Dinsey+ will adopt is returning to the weekly release model, in hopes of creating a more anticipated hype among viewers, so that their content will be discussed and remembered for a longer period. This strategy is in stark contrast with Netflix’s strategy, which defined binge culture.
Focusing on exclusivity and moderation, Disney+ will give the viewer an alternate streaming experience, yet the problem that now arises has become not a matter of what to watch but where to watch. If we want to have access to everything that is out there, we would have to sign up for a subscription on Netflix, Amazon prime video, Hulu, Youtube Premium, Apple Watch, Facebook Watch, Sony Crackle, WarnerMedia and soon also Disney+. This list grows even longer, with services like HBO Max making its expected entrance in 2020. What all these streaming services have in common is that they all focus on exclusivity which plays very well on the psychological side effects we experience with media, namely inducing the ‘fear of missing something important’ (Harris). It is hard for a user to unsubscribe from a service that continuously promises to deliver first-hand exclusive nowhere-else-to-be-seen-content. HBO Max therefore promotes their upcoming streaming service on Youtube as ‘an extensive collection of exclusive original programming and the best-of-the-best from WarnerMedia’s enormous portfolio of beloved brands and libraries’.
An obvious question that emerges with the launch of Disney+ and other upcoming streaming services is: how can we decide between all these different platforms? And does it even make sense to have subscriptions to multiple television-streaming services? A possible answer to both these questions comes from Plex, a platform that is not looking to compete in the streaming wars but instead wants to be the platform that helps people keep track of everything (Alexander). If Plex is going to be an answer to the over saturation of subscription streaming services I cannot answer here, but it is interesting to note how platforms and their subscription-based services are progressively expanding and embedding themselves in our daily existence. We can see this happening for example with food (Hello Fresh, Marley Spoon), transportation (Swapfiets, Greenwheels), music (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Google Play Music, etc.), and many other things. Streaming wars are present at any level of consumerism and we are slowly being ushered into a state where the only option is to sign up for a subscription-based service. There will be a lot more chapters in the ongoing streaming wars, and we need to be cautious to end up in the middle of the battlefield.
Alexander, Julia. “Overload and day one crashing are things the Disney+ team is thinking ‘very much’ about.” The Verge, 26 Aug. 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/26/20831284/disney-plus-overload-crash-hbo-now-espn-launch-day. Accessed 21 Sept. 2019.
Alexander, Julia. “Plex wants to become a one-stop destination in the streaming wars.” The Verge, 29 Aug. 2019. Accessed on 22 Sept. 2019
@Disney. “In year one, you’ll be able to rediscover more than 7,500 episodes and 500 films from our library on #DisneyPlus.” Twitter, 12 Apr. 2019, 1:54 a.m., https://twitter.com/Disney/status/1116489768299196416.
Harris, Tristan. “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist.” Medium, 18 May, 2019. Accessed on 20 Sept. 2019.
Littleton, Cynthia. “How Hollywood Is Racing to Catch Up With Netflix.” Variety, 21 Aug. 2018, https://variety.com/2018/digital/features/media-streaming-services-netflix-disney-comcast-att-1202910463/. Accessed 21 Sept. 2019.
Panico, Claudio, and Carmelo Cennamo. “What drives a platform strategy? Usage, membership, and competition effects.” Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings. 2015, Vol. 2015 Issue 1, p1-1. 1p. DOI: 10.5465/AMBPP.2015.246.
Statt, Nick. “Game of Thrones creators sign $200 million Netflix deal to make exclusive shows and films.” The Verge, 7 Aug. 2019. Accessed 23 Sept. 2019.