When Disney+ launched a couple weeks ago, some people laughed because there were some technical issues, with people struggling to sign in or maintain a decent connection with the platform. Well who’s laughing now, because Disney’s stock closed yesterday at a record high. Now, this is not going to become a stock market column, because 1) I think we should burn the stock market down and run into the woods and howl at the moon and be free, and 2) when I start thinking about numbers my eyes roll back in my head and I pass away. However, it is worth keeping an eye on Disney+, the first real challenger to Netflix for streaming dominance.
So far, though, Disney+ isn’t looking like much of a challenger. Not in the sense that they’re not doing well—they are. They’re ahead of pace to meet their target of sixty to ninety million subscribers by 2024, and despite the startup glitches, people seem happy with their platform so far. But through the first couple weeks, when you would expect curiosity to be high and people to be browsing Disney+, user trends on Netflix (and Amazon) remain steady. The story of Disney+’s first days, then, is a big win for Disney without really interrupting anything for Netflix.
People keep talking about Disney+ as a potential Netflix killer, but I don’t think that’s the case, for two reasons. One is that Netflix is already thoroughly ingrained in our culture. We have Netflix buttons on our remote controls, and it’s in our lexicon as a verb: “Netflix and chill” and “I’ll Netflix that”. Once something is that ingrained, that habitual, it is very difficult to quash (see also: Google, “just google it”). But another reason is that, at least in the early stages, Disney+ is family-focused, and doesn’t have much to appeal to the non-family market. That will change over time, as they start adding Marvel shows and more Star Wars stuff—especially if they can maintain the bar set by The Mandalorian, which is storming the internet thanks to the IMPOSSIBLY CUTE baby Yoda.
But still, the core content of Disney+ is family-friendly, and while some of it is delightful, like Forky Asks A Question, there is a not insignificant audience that won’t be moved by this content concentration. Right now, Disney+ has a little bit of stuff that appeals outside the family demographic, and Netflix has a little family stuff, but they’re pretty well staying out of each other’s lanes. There is room for both, and the likelihood is that, at the end of this nightmare era of consolidation, Disney and Netflix are two of the remaining entertainment conglomerates.
However, the wild card is Hulu. Thanks to the Fox merger, Disney has controlling stake of Hulu, and as yet, they have done nothing with it. Also thanks to the Fox merger, they have a huge library of non-family content that needs a home. Hulu, or some reconstituted version of it, seems like the natural place for the Fox stuff that doesn’t fit into the Disney+ family-friendly mandate. At the point that Disney does something with the Fox library and creates a broader-appeal platform to go with Disney+, then, maybe, they would be more of a direct challenger to Netflix. For now, though, Disney has the family demographic, the headlines, and the stock bump, and the last laugh over anyone who thought a glitchy first day was some kind of bad omen.