We've been promised "Netflix killers" for nearly as long as Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has been in the streaming business. But the pretenders have not been able to take the throne, so skepticism toward the latest wave -- which includes offerings from Disney (NYSE:DIS), Apple, and AT&T -- is understandable.
But one of these services is different from the rest. While Apple is pledging big bucks for original content and following the trail blazed by Netflix and others, Disney is coming from a different direction. Disney+ will be a new streaming service, but Disney's original content reputation precedes it by nearly a century.
Netflix's brilliant original content strategy
By now, most observers of the streaming space are very familiar with Netflix's original content strategy. The idea is that Netflix absorbs the higher up-front cost of producing its own shows and movies with an eye to saving money down the line by avoiding the endless payments and renegotiations that streaming licensing deals entail. With more competitors entering the streaming space, bidding wars over exclusive deals can easily get out of hand. While Netflix still ponies up for marquee licensed content (including Disney's own Star Wars movies and Marvel Studios films), such deals get a little less essential every time Netflix scores a big original hit.
It's no wonder, then, that other streaming services have followed Netflix's lead. Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services have worked to create original content in order to differentiate themselves and bring content costs down. But Netflix has the head start and nobody has come close to catching its subscriber count -- 139 million at least count.
Check out the latest earnings call transcript for Disney.
Disney's inverted path to content/streaming integration
We have seen a lot of streaming services become content producers. But now we're about to see something that hasn't happened before, at least not on this scale: a massive content producer becoming a streaming company.
And just as it's more efficient for a streaming service to own its own content than to cut deals with content companies, it's more efficient for major content producers to own their own streaming distributors. When Disney content airs on Disney's streaming service, all the money goes to Disney.
Netflix has created a real fan base for itself with originals like Stranger Things, but no Netflix original's fan base dates back further than 2013 -- the year that Netflix's first original series, House of Cards, premiered. By contrast, Disney owns many iconic properties that other streaming services have always had to rely on licensing deals to get.
A new level of exclusive content
A few caveats are important here. For one thing, some of Disney's biggest hits -- including some Star Wars films -- are tied up in TV deals that will keep them from defecting to Disney's own platform immediately, even as Disney pulls out of deals with Netflix. And it's not as though this is pure upside for Disney. While yanking Star Wars movies from Netflix and bringing them home will be a huge boost for Disney+, Disney will no longer be getting giant checks for licensing out its most popular movies.
It's clear that Netflix has never seen competition with this level of firepower in the original and exclusive content department. Amazon's top originals, for instance, are things like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, popular and critically acclaimed stuff, to be sure, but not exactly Star Wars or Marvel. Disney is showing up with stars like Mickey Mouse -- who first appeared in 1928 -- and that is going to make for a much more interesting competition.
And it's not just about what Disney has already made. Disney can come up with new shows and movies using its existing stable of franchises, and that's just what it's doing. Take The Mandalorian, for instance, a series that takes place in the Star Wars universe and which will air exclusively on Disney+.
A Netflix killer? Maybe
Netflix got a very big head start in the streaming business. So it's no surprise that its competitors have failed to close the gap. But Disney is bringing some of the biggest franchises on the planet to the table. Disney does not have to convince consumers to try a new show in order to get them hooked, because it can rely on existing loyalty to everything from Pixar films to Star Wars. That gives Disney's original content and exclusivity strategy a distinctly different flavor from anything we -- or Netflix -- have seen before. If any company can take on Netflix for the top streaming spot, it's Disney.