Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) finally released its streaming service, Disney+ -- a product years in the making -- to the public two weeks ago. The marketing and the hype have led many to suggest that the platform could rival or even surpass Netflix, while others, including many tech reviewers, are somewhat more skeptical.
At any rate, it's fair to say that Disney+ presents one of the most formidable challenges to Netflix in its history, and the launch of the service may kick-start the oft-mentioned streaming wars between the big players in the space. With the attractive monthly price of $6.99 (compared to the $12.99 that Netflix charges for its most popular plan), Disney will be focusing for the near future primarily on building up its subscriber list. In this way, the company is probably taking a page out of Netflix's book, as the streaming giant in its early days used low prices to hook viewers before steadily ramping up prices.
As it stands, Disney+ has been relatively well-received by customers and reviewers alike. Loaded up with fan favorites from the Pixar and Marvel universes, as well as dozens of other classic movies and shows, the platform's catalog highlights the diversity of content available for Disney fans. Some critics, however, have pointed out that the company will need to regularly update its offering in order to compete with the likes of Netflix, which currently boasts thousands of titles from a range of studios and countries.
This leads us to one of the biggest questions looming over the whole initiative -- namely, will Disney be forced to syndicate content to keep up with audience demand? The surprise inclusion of the hit Fox cartoon The Simpsons would suggest that, even at this early stage, the company is willing to bring in outside shows to bolster its catalog. Considering that there are only so many shows one company can produce, it seems inevitable that more imported content will follow suit.
Going down that route, however, will bring up certain brand problems for the company behind Mickey Mouse. Unlike Netflix -- or at least, unlike an earlier incarnation of Netflix -- Disney is primarily known as a movie studio, and much of the appeal of the new service will be convenient access to its most beloved and recognizable content. The more syndicated material the company adds to its portfolio, the less authentically "Disney" it's likely to become, meaning the whole platform will run the risk of becoming just another bundle of good movies and shows, shorn of its iconic status.
Aside from content, Netflix also has the upper hand, for now, in terms of its user interface. With years of data to inform its choice architecture, the streaming giant has mastered the art of keeping viewers engaged for as long as possible. This was evident to many users upon the release of Disney+. One of the more common complaints against the new service was its lack of "continue watching" and "watch it again" carousels to inform viewers what they had and hadn't seen. Even if we presume that Disney will not hesitate to respond to feedback of this sort, there's still no doubting who's ahead.
Of course, Netflix is not the only cloud on Disney's horizon. On Nov. 1, we saw the global launch of Apple's contribution to the streaming wars, Apple TV+, which is priced at the even more affordable $4.99 a month, with a free 12-month trial for iPhone buyers. Apple lacks a foothold in the entertainment industry comparable to Disney and Netflix, but the company's enormous wallet has allowed it to enhance its initial catalog with a number of hugely popular shows, including such hits as The Morning Show. Meanwhile, AT&T's HBO Max -- the streaming service soon to be released by perhaps the most prestigious name in cable TV -- will entice viewers with classics like Friends and South Park, as well as its own stable of original content.
Long-dominated by a single giant, the streaming landscape is set to become much more competitive and multipolar. There's no doubt that the power of its entertainment empire will give Disney an advantage over other newcomers on the scene, but whether the company will convince subscribers to keep forking out that monthly fee is hard to tell for the moment.
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