For magically carving out a place in the world of streaming
Disney’s new streaming service didn’t need a global lockdown to thrive. It had more than 10 million subscribers within one day of its November 2019 launch in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. A survey published in February showed 36 percent of U.S. subscribers had dropped another streaming service along the way, according to research firm Piplsay.
Yet the pandemic certainly gave Disney+ an extra boost. With children sheltered at home and most of Disney’s theme parks shuttered because of COVID-19, the streaming service became a sensation as it expanded into Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and across several European markets. By May, Disney+ had 54.5 million users. More than a decade behind Netflix and other streaming video pioneers, Disney’s project is catching up in a snap.
All it took? Crafty business maneuvering—and a dash of good old-fashioned Hollywood magic. With a massive, beloved vault of animated classics from as early as 1928 at the ready, Disney could also deploy the bounty from its 2006 purchase of Pixar (makers of Toy Story and Finding Nemo) and its 2012 takeover of Lucasfilm (Star Wars). More recently, Disney had gobbled up 21st Century Fox’s catalog of blockbuster films, iconic TV shows and the balance of Marvel superheroes it hadn’t already claimed. In all, Disney+ users had access to more than 500 feature films and over 3,300 TV episodes at launch.
There were new plot twists too. Disney added original shows including Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian, which got a huge boost when Baby Yoda became a veritable internet sensation and meme machine. With theaters closing because of the pandemic, Disney moved up the streaming date of Frozen 2 by three months to help entertain a quarantined world, enticing another wave of users.
The popularity of Disney+ has put new pressure on leaders like Netflix, which is scheduled to spend US$17 billion on original content in 2020—a US$2 billion increase from the previous year. It’s also cited as proof by other late-to-streaming players that, yes, they too could be contenders. NBCUniversal’s new Peacock service, which launched post-COVID, offers up TV stalwarts including Law and Order, high-profile movie releases like Jurassic World 3 and (unlike most of its rivals) news coverage.
But they’ll be hard-pressed to keep up with Disney, which took another shot in July by choosing to stream the Broadway smash musical Hamilton more than a year ahead of its original theatrical release date. The rate of Disney+ app downloads spiked nearly 50 percent.
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