Disney Plus has been out for a few years now, with its big tentpole releases being mostly Pixar, “Star Wars,” and Marvel shows and movies. With any relatively new streaming platform, the central questions they face are: Has it made itself essential viewing? Does its library justify its existence? Why should consumers subscribe to it over the many other streaming platforms on the market?
Being about 2 1/2 years old, Disney Plus has partially answered these questions. If you’re a fan of any of the franchises it owns — particularly Marvel and “Star Wars” — its original programming is absolutely essential watching (for the most part), and especially its Pixar releases — which are exclusive to the platform, foregoing theatrical releases — are solid contributions to the platform. But it is clearly geared more towards younger audiences, with most of its content being kid-friendly, which has no doubt made it a staple for parents, given the lack of kid-friendly options for streaming (while it is true that most platforms have parental controls, most are not necessarily built specifically with kids in mind).
Disney Plus has managed to make itself be one of the biggest streaming platforms by number of users, as it has over 100 million of them. Only Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have more, though its worth noting that Disney Plus is priced lower than other streaming platforms ($7.99 a month) and Disney offers a bundle that includes Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus for $13.99 a month — it is designed to coexist with other streaming platforms.
In terms of the Nielsen ratings, Disney Plus actually had 8 of the 10 most-watched movies on streaming platforms in 2021, but is was hopelessly behind Netflix in terms of original television programming despite making live action Marvel and “Star Wars” programs a major selling point for the platform. This is probably because other streaming platforms are really geared towards more longform, bingeable content than films, and Disney Plus had offerings that included a mixture of premium original films like “Luca” and “Soul” that are of theatrical quality, as well as highly rewatchable films like “Frozen” that were no doubt played on repeat in homes across the country.
Disney Plus did not crack the top 15 in acquired programs, with only Amazon and Hulu preventing Netflix from having a clean sweep. This confirms what I’ve suspected — that while Disney Plus’ library of intellectual property is substantial, it mostly caters to the niches of franchise fans and children. Netflix, on the other hand, is willing to pay top dollar for the rights highly-bingeable third party shows like “Criminal Minds” and “Grey’s Anatomy” — and is not concerned with the ratings of any of its content, something that has held Disney Plus back (it only started showing more mature content after the Marvel Defendersverse shows were added to the service, and it required users to opt-in to seeing such content on the platform).
Given this data, it would seem that while Disney Plus has established itself as one of the largest streaming platforms in terms of numbers of subscribers, it has done so by carving out a niche for itself, rather than being a true competitor to the likes of Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max and Netflix in terms of acquiring popular existing shows and bingeworthy original shows. In fact, it has fully rejected the binge-watching model, with most of its original shows having old-fashioned weekly episode releases.
While its original show have garnered respectable viewership numbers and have generated positive buzz for the platform, where Disney Plus stands out is its exclusive first-party films both new and from years past aimed at children. It’s also worth noting that their original live action Marvel and “Star Wars” shows have come at significant cost, with their budgets resembling those of feature theatrical films, and one of their central selling points — that they will tie into theatrical releases in the franchise — has been greatly tested specifically with the rocky transition between the show “WandaVision” to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” in which the latter skims over and almost ignores the events and point of the former.
But so far, the platform has managed to justify its existence — just don’t expect it to catch Netflix any time soon. Though I am skeptical if the platform will be able to continue making $200 million original shows — I’m not sure if that’s a sustainable business model, especially as its competition continues to get significantly more views from much smaller budgets.