Will Netflix step up to the plate against Disney+?
The launch of a streaming service from Disney was always going to pose major competition for Netflix. The digital hub has been in the works since 2016 with the name for the service (Disney+) unveiled in late 2018.
Disney's streaming distribution deal with Netflix ended in 2019 and its streaming service launched Stateside on November 12th that year. It expanded into other countries in the following months (Ireland got the service in March). As of April 2020, Disney+ has 50 million subscribers.
While the streaming services are mutual rivals, it's worth noting a few differences between them. Disney+ is very much focussed on a family audience; the target for Netflix is broader. It's worth noting too that Disney, definitely renowned for having its fingers in many pies, also owns Hulu. While not available in Ireland yet, the subscription video on demand service offers content for a general audience. This means Netflix could exploit a gap, at least in territories where Hulu isn't available.
While Netflix has existed since 1997, it only really came into people's attention when it started actively investing in original content. This began with 'House of Cards' in 2013, followed by 'Orange is the New Black' among other titles that drew in people by the masses. 'Stranger Things', 'The Witcher', 'Mindhunter', 'The Haunting of Hill House', 'After Life', 'Bojack Horseman', 'The Crown', 'You', 'Ozark', 'Making a Murderer' and 'Tiger King' among many more have proven major hits.
What Disney offers, meanwhile, is all the movies and TV shows it has ever produced; and The Walt Disney Company have been making movie magic since 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' in 1937. In terms of reputation, it has years upon years of quality content to draw on. But it's also more niche in terms of genre and audience.
Where Disney+ is definitely suffering compared to Netflix right now is its range of exclusive original content. They have few shows or movies, and they're very broad, aimed at a G-rated (namely kid-friendly) audience. Of course the big success for them so far has been 'Star Wars' spin-off 'The Mandalorian'. And with 'Star Wars' movies now on hold, fans of the sci-fi franchise will have nowhere else to turn but Disney+. It makes sense then that other 'Star Wars' series are in the works, and BTS content is being pushed and highly publicised.
Aside from that, original series 'The World According to Jeff Goldblum' has proved popular - owing mostly to the popularity of Jeff Goldblum. Other series like 'Be Our Chef', 'Disney Fairytale Weddings' and 'The Imagineering Story' are really just for die hard Disney fans. There's 'Encore!' and 'High School Musical the Musical The Series' for musical fans (often Disney fans and musical fans are one and the same). But the service will have to cast a wider net if it wants to attract more subscribers.
Meanwhile its original movies include the somewhat warmly received 'Lady and the Tramp' (though one reckons this is only because it's slightly better than other Disney live-action remakes; plus it's a dog movie, which always get let off the leash hook); and movies that no one is really talking about - 'Stargirl' (which took a lot of liberties from the original novel), 'Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made' and 'Togo' (another dog movie).
Original content is thus an area Disney+ will definitely be required to invest in and expand the most. But the service are on the money when it comes to fandoms anyway. Aside from the aforementioned 'Star Wars' audience, Disney+ has also been clever to make sure 'The Simpsons' has been available on its service from the get-go (remember when they were toing and froing about whether it was going to be available in Ireland and the UK or not?), with a huge fan base there. While National Geographic programming is also offered by the service, we doubt that has been that big a draw. But the Marvel content certainly has been.
Almost all (aside from the 'Spider-Man' movies and 'The Incredible Hulk' where the property rights aren't quite in place) the MCU films are on Disney+. And what's more is there's original Marvel content on the way for fans including series 'WandaVision', 'Loki' and 'The Falcon and the Winter Soldier' (again, TV series are the preference over original films).
Since the launch of Disney+, Netflix has emphasised the animated features and family-oriented content it offers (such as through the tweet below, sent out just a week after its rival's debut). The fact that a number of Dreamworks movies, Aardman, Studio Ghibli works and Nickelodeon shows are on the service is nothing to be sniffed at. The likes of 'How to Train Your Dragon', the 'Shrek' franchise, the stunning anime of Hayao Miyazaki, and 'Spongebob Squarepants' all have their fans, whether kids, kids at heart, or lovers of animation as a genre.
Such content seems more a side project than one of the bigger orientations of Netflix. They're more focussed on original series content, producing and promoting more seasons when a show proves a hit. But it is a child friendly service too with its own dedicated kids section that consistently churns out new content by the month.
– Madagascar (2005)
– Shark Tale (2004)
– Rise of the Guardians (2012)
– How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
– Puss in Boots (2011)
– Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
– Megamind (2010)
– Flushed Away (2006)
– Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) March 31, 2020
Where Netflix isn't forgetting the younger audiences, Disney+ haven't totally shunned away from an older, not necessarily family-oriented audience either. After all, it's hardly the children that the service is primarily geared towards that will be paying subscribers. They need to attract that 20s-30s crowd with disposable income who are always on the lookout for entertainment. Thus a number of their Buenavista and Touchstone titles are on the service now. (In fact, the latter was always a dormant distribution label used by Disney to release PG-13 and R-rated movies).
Films like 'Splash', 'Sister Act', 'Three Men and a Baby', 'Adventures in Babysitting', 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit', and 'Turner & Hooch' are all on Disney+. However the studio seems somewhat uncomfortable with totally abandoning their family-friendly branding. This is most obvious from the re-cut of 'Splash' which very crudely removed Daryl Hannah's bottom. And you couldn't describe any of the titles as racy, even with their more mature rating.
Those movies are also very much leaning into that 80s to 90s nostalgia, which that 20s-30s audience loves. But Netflix is ahead of the curve. Such films as 'Matilda', 'Free Willy', 'Labyrinth', 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' and 'Sixteen Candles' are all on the service. There's also 'Clueless', 'Coming to America', 'The Breakfast Club', 'Ghost', 'Hook', 'Jumanji', 'Babe', 'Space Jam' and 'The Neverending Story'. The list goes on with more titles along these lines being added by the month.
To counter that, let's not forget that with the acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney will expand what it has on offer for more mature audiences in the coming months. And you can bet it'll be releasing Fox movies tactically and gradually, bating in those potential new subscribers. Heck, the likes of 'Avatar' and '10 Things I Hate About You' are already on Disney+, again, to attract the fans.
Finally, there's the matter of the original animated movies that Netflix is producing. Because let's be honest, the biggest draw to Disney+, whether it's just that one movie from your childhood, or a whole bunch of them, is the vast library of Walt Disney Studios films. Netflix recognises this and while it can never and will never reach Disney's standard here, recent efforts like Christmas animation 'Klaus' (which is gorgeous and has the feel of an instant classic to it) and 'The Willoughbys' (a quirky, charming romp with an aesthetic all its own) demonstrates that they're getting a feel for the field that has been dominated by Disney (as well as, lest we forget, Pixar) for years.
In fact, both 'Klaus' and 'I Lost My Body' (a French animation for older audiences) were the first Netflix animated movies to be nominated at the Oscars this year. They lost to 'Toy Story 4', which was notably the only Disney movie nominated (both 'Frozen 2' and 'The Lion King' were ignored), in a category usually dominated by the studio. Thus it would seem people are tiring of Disney's domination of animation (as well as everything else) and looking elsewhere.
It would seem that with their very distinct content and audiences, there is room for both Disney+ and Netflix in the market. For now. The former will no doubt be making its way to push out the latter in the coming years, given the machine that is the House of Mouse. But Netflix is firmly poised to put up a fight.