Leo Barraclough says that prospects for the new platform in Europe look exceptionally strong during lockdown
When Disney announced that its eagerly awaited streaming service, Disney+, would launch in the UK and Western Europe in March no one knew that the service’s debut would coincide with a global pandemic keeping millions of people at home.
“With much of the UK looking for entertainment while they are stuck at home, Disney+ is likely to be a big hit,” said Shiv Pabari, director of media and entertainment at Simon-Kucher & Partners. “Families, in particular, will be excited by the content offered.”
For Disney, having a new revenue source at a difficult time is certain to prove very valuable to its overall business. Its theme parks in the US were closed from 16 March for only the third time in the company’s history; Disneyland Paris shut its doors on 15 March.
Across the world, cinemas are closed, film and TV production has been suspended and all non-essential retail outlets are shut. People are craving home entertainment as never before and Disney+ is uniquely placed to cheer up stay-at-home families.
Disney+ has joined the Sky Q platform in the UK and will appear on NOW TV in the coming months. O2 is the exclusive mobile network distributor. Brits have to pay £5.99 per month (the same as Netflix’s basic service),
or £59.99 per year. On launch day, 24 March, the Disney+ app for mobile devices was downloaded 5 million times by Europeans.
Disney+ made its debut in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand in November. If you want to watch the last big Avengers movie for the 200th time or just catch up on The Simpsons, Disney+ will be there, according to Kevin Mayer, Chair, direct to consumer and international at Disney. “Never before has our content been as broadly, conveniently or permanently available as it will be on Disney+,” he said at the launch.
“Having a launch partner [such as Verizon] really provides steep uptake to woo those investors and also get consumers familiar with what they are offering”
This was an impressive first step towards a target of 60 million to 90 million subs worldwide – and profitability – by 2024. Disney aims to secure two-thirds of those subs from outside the US.
However, Disney’s Executive Chair, Bob Iger, noted: “The interest in streaming in general in [international] markets isn’t as high as it has been in the US.… So we have probably more of a marketing effort, and, I’d say, more of a challenge, to launch in those markets.”
The UK market is dissimilar in a number of respects to the US. There, a lot of attention has focused on the price differential with Netflix – Disney+ costs $6.99 (£5.88) a month, or $69.99 per year, whereas Netflix’s most basic service is priced at $8.99 per month.
In the US, Disney+, has benefited from being offered as part of a bundle by broadband provider Verizon. Around 20% of subscribers have come from Verizon, and roughly 50% directly through Disneyplus.com; the rest are from a variety of other platforms.
“Having a launch partner [such as Verizon] really provides steep uptake to woo those investors and also get consumers familiar with what they are offering,” says Sarah Henschel, a senior research analyst at Omdia.
Another significant difference is that, in the US, the service can be purchased as part of a bundle with the Hulu and ESPN+ streaming services for $12.99 a month. This combined deal offers what analysts call “four-quadrant appeal” – in other words, something for everyone in the family. In the UK, no such bundle is available.
Of course, each market that Disney+ launches in is different, but Guy Bisson, research director at Ampere Analysis, notes the similarity between the deals that were struck with Sky in the UK, Canal+ in France and Movistar+ in Spain. Netflix, he says, “has done the same, getting on board with pay-TV platforms, and that will continue to be an important part of any streamer’s strategy, so replicating the channel relationship in a way with pay-TV providers”.
He adds that such deals are “a great way to get in front of a pay-ready customer base, and there’s no reason not to do it, because it doesn’t preclude direct sale”.
By bringing services such as Disney+ on to its platform, Sky helps to dissuade customers from moving elsewhere for content. This is part of what Sky refers to as its “all in one place” offer for customers. It’s a strategy of aggregation that is becoming ever more evident in the battle against disruption.
Such aggregation by pay-TV companies hasn’t been seen in the US, says Henschel, although companies such as Roku – which manufactures digital media players – have performed that role, and may do so increasingly in the UK.
“We are going to break through the ceiling of the number of subscription services that people will take”
As part of its deal with Disney, Sky has negotiated continued access to stellar content. Disney movies will continue to be available on Sky and Now TV, independently of Disney+. The Simpsons will remain on Sky, and the new deal also brings Fox channels, the new season of The Walking Dead, Nat Geo shows and non-Disney+ movies to Sky Q and Now TV. The Disney Channel will continue to be available on Sky, at least in the short term.
Bisson notes: “Although Disney is all-in when it comes to its streaming strategy – possibly more so than any other studio – you can’t go in overnight and completely cannibalise well-established and high-value businesses.” Content licensing is a complex affair, so shifting content “off the more established platforms will be gradual and will vary by market.”
The market for subscription services in the UK is strong but, to date, the choice of major subscription streamers has been limited to Netflix, Amazon and NOW TV. Ampere Analysis calculates that the European average is 2.3 SVoD services per SVoD home; in the US, it is a little over three.
“We are on the verge of becoming a much more diverse landscape, with all of the studio services coming to the UK, as well as Apple, etc. We are going to break through the ceiling of the number of subscription services that people will take,” Bisson predicts.
With its launch complete, the focus at Disney+ is shifting to ensuring a steady supply of premium content. Original production is a key part of Disney’s strategy for its platform, with 26 exclusive Disney+ originals available at launch in the UK, and 58 projects in the pipeline, although some of these shows have been hit by the production freeze.
Tim Westcott, research director for channels and programming at Omdia, underlines the importance of original content, such as Star Wars spin-off series The Mandalorian. “It gets people excited, you can promote it, you can use it to drive new consumers to the service,” he says. “But then, once they’ve signed up, you also have to refresh the offer fairly regularly, particularly if it is a monthly service, where people can churn with new offers and new content.”
Despite the importance of original content, it is the evergreen theatrical movies, such as Frozen 2, that are the major attraction for subscribers. Iger reported in February that 50% of people who use Disney+ have watched movies on it.
Alice Enders, research director of Enders Analysis, lauds “the power of Disney to convert generation after generation into long-term fans of its franchises”. However, this comes at a price. Disney invested $27.8bn in content last year, outspending every other Hollywood studio and digital giant by far, notes Enders: “It is a magic kingdom, but it costs money to make magic.”
Disney+ 10 family treats
- The Mandalorian - The first-ever live-action Star Wars series from executive producer and writer Jon Favreau
- The World According to Jeff Goldblum - Docu-series from National Geographic, presented by actor Jeff Goldblum
- Stargirl - A tender and offbeat coming-of-age movie
- Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made - Movie following the humorous exploits of quirky, deadpan hero Timmy Failure
- Lady and the Tramp - Disney’s live-action retelling of the 1955 animated classic
- High School Musical: The Musical – The Series - Ten-episode series set in East High School
- The Imagineering Story - Documentary chronicling the history of Walt Disney Imagineering
- Forky Asks a Question - Ten animated shorts from Pixar featuring Toy Story 4’s Forky
- Be Our Chef - Cookery competition series hosted by The Office star Angela Kinsey
- Togo - A Disney adventure movie set in the treacherous Alaskan tundra