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When it launched in Canada and the United States, Disney+ found 10 million subscribers in the first 24 hours and no shortage of server issues. A week later, on 19 November 2019, the anticipated streaming TV service has landed in other parts of the world. Can it find similar success around the world? Will it find similar problems? And how does it compare to already existing streaming TV giants like Netflix?
As a company, Disney needs no introduction. It’s huge – like Dumbo’s ears, Donald’s temper, Han Solo’s ego, Hulk’s biceps and Homer’s love of donuts.
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You know the brands. Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, Mickey Mouse, The Simpsons, National Geographic, Toy Story… we could go on. And on. And on. To date, they’ve been spread out across the gamut of TV streaming services. You could find them on services like Netflix. Then they would rotate providers and then rotate back.
Now, these brands and countless others have a place to call home. It’s Disney+.
Turning on Disney+ for the first time won’t blow your mind. Whereas the likes of Apple TV+ had that unique, Apple feel, Disney+ is a by-the-numbers Netflix clone. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but some innovation would have been nice.
Some featured content boxes interrupt line after line of horizontal EPGs (electronic programming guides) broken out into genres and “trending search” filters. You can jump straight into Kids mode, or select from the five major Disney pillars: Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, National Geographic and Pixar. You can download anything you want for offline use, too.
In fact, Disney ticks almost all the expected boxes when it comes to features. As well as offline viewing, there’s 4K, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision support for selected films and TV. Naturally, this is mostly true of recent productions, but there were some older-school surprises in the 4K Disney+ list, including Star Wars.
Four simultaneous streams and family sharing for up to seven accounts rounds out the key features. The only noticeable failing is the lack of a “continue watching” service. Quite the oversight really, with a counterintuitive watchlist a poor substitute for now. It’s surely on the list of first fixes.
That Disney+ offers everything for $8.99 per month – after the free 7-day trial – helps it really stand out against Netflix’s 4K premium plan, which is $19.95 per month. It also easily outcompetes Apple TV+ in content, despite the latter being $7.99 per month.
If you’re confident you will love the service, you can also get Disney+ for $89.99 per year, effectively bringing the cost down to $7.49 per month.
Props must also be given to the range of compatible devices Disney+ has launched with. Outside of a native Mac app, a few smart TV brands and Airplay support, it’s exhaustive. PC, iOS, Android, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, PS4, Xbox, Windows 10 and Smart TVs (LG, Samsung). Well done.
For sheer size and international significance, Disney+ feels like the first genuine competitor to Netflix in the streaming TV space. But it’s not; not really. Where Netflix has become a home for mature – if not adult-focused – original content, Disney is a family-focused affair heavily leaning on legacy experiences. It’s a paradise for children, with just enough cross-demographic content to keep parents and fanboys (or girls) tethered.
But to be fair, Disney+ only has the one standout launch exclusive. It’s a good one; the rather excellent live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian. It’s essential viewing for any Star Wars fans, and a fun entry point for those who managed to live in a Wookie-free bubble for the past forty years.
There are other launch exclusives, but they bring little urgency. Lady and the Tramp and Noelle are notable movies. Some documentaries like Marvel Hero Project, comedies like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and a Jeff Goldblum curiosity are also available. Kids have some short films from Pixar to dive into with the new Forky Asks a Question series, too.
For those of you who are unconvinced, the future does look extremely bright. As we head into 2020, a run of big-name TV shows will begin emerging on the platform. Many of these are from the Marvel universe, but there will be more from Star Wars as well. This includes a second season of The Mandalorian, not to mention new seasons of shows like The Simpsons, which will all be Disney+ exclusives.
In addition, recent and future movies – both cinematic and straight-to-TV – will be Disney+ streaming exclusives. Given the usual high standard we see from Disney’s big pillar content, it means that the Disney+ content library will continue to define and distance itself from the competition into the future.
Perhaps the biggest question hanging over Disney+ is how Canada’s network holds up to the strain. Only you know the answer to that question. How’s your connection? If you find yourself already struggling in peak periods to get Netflix or even just YouTube working as desired, Disney+ will join that list of lemons. You’re looking at basically the same data and bandwidth demand.
If you pass this potential issue, Disney+ is a competitively priced, perfectly functional portal into the library of Disney content. Its library of classics dates back to the 1930s but is set to swell with a host of new exclusives – even if it’s a library that offered little compelling new content at launch and will only ever offer content that puts family viewing first.
If you’re not a super Star Wars fan desperate for The Mandalorian, or a parent with needy kids seeking holiday entertainment, you need not feel compelled to dive into Disney+ straight away. Or, at least, extend it past the seven-day trial. Not until deeper into 2020, where a broader range of exclusive new content appears. Content you haven’t already watched a dozen times over on other services.
As to whether you can cut the cycle on your Netflix subscription, we wouldn’t just yet. Get the free Disney+ trial, have a sniff around and then wait for 2020 to really swell the slate with exclusive new content.
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