When Netflix started their streaming service in 2007 they were ahead of the curve and in the years since have been able to adapt with the times incredibly well (as long as you don’t mention the ill-forgotten attempted Qwikster rebrand). As such, 13 years later Netflix is now a well renowned and ubiquitous brand all around the world. In the time since, many competitors have cropped up both nationally and globally from the extremely popular Prime Video, to the “popular with your grandparents” BritBox. In 2020 there really is a streaming service for everyone! One of the most recent companies to throw their own contender into the ring was Disney+ which released on November 12th 2019. A full year later, let’s take a look at the platform to see what it’s done well, and what still needs improvement.
Let’s take a look at the user interface first. You can have the best content in the world, if people can’t find what they are looking for they are not going to use it. In 2020, User Interface is more important now than ever; thousands upon thousands are spent on research and development to ensure that the interface works to enrich the user’s experience as perhaps more than any other attribute, it can make or break a product like a streaming service.
We now live in a world where Netflix is able to offer users constant content on their plate. As you watch more content, it will offer you more and more and more. It’s arguably the easiest of streaming services to use giving you plenty of options to choose from so that you’re never sat around too long without it suggesting something to watch. The hard part with Netflix is having the self control not to mindlessly scroll through the content offerings and lose 30 minutes. Prime Video is a bit more convoluted by comparison, it offers you everything upfront and takes forever to find the content you are interested in (unless it is brand new). Using Prime Video you find that the search bar is your friend, the only trouble is your friend has a habit of suggesting titles that you have to pay some additional money toward.
Disney+ is somewhere in the middle, not as cluttered as Prime Video and not eager to give you a stream of content to keep you watching all night like Netflix. When logging into Disney+, the first thing that catches your eye is the top banner which promotes what is new and noteworthy to the service. Underneath we have subcategories: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic and while this does help, Disney has so much content on their service that these categories don’t necessarily help navigation (The Simpsons and Fox in general is a big omission here). To help with this problem there are rows of content (which is confusingly also called categories and collections) to ensure you have access to all the things that come to mind (like The Simpsons or the best X-Men film Days of Future Past) just a tiny scroll down the page.
It hasn’t changed drastically since launch (in fact it hasn’t changed at all), but it doesn’t really need to; it’s designed for families to sit around and discuss together and not to overwhelm. So in that respect, it succeeds.
If we go on a purely numbers basis, we can see that in less than a year Disney+ has obtained over 60 million subscribers, a number that it took Netflix over 8 years to achieve. There are many different factors at play that could have led to a first year sign-up rate this high, from infrastructure to a certain virus coming around which made everyone stay at home. Whatever the reasons may be, 60 million + subscribers is nothing to turn your nose up at.
The biggest reason to get Disney+ is its catalogue of content, which has slowly been building ever since the company’s inception in 1923, in addition to its many acquisitions over the years. This is the only streaming service that you’ll be able to watch Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, National Geographic & 20th Century Studios (formerly Fox) content included in your subscription (if it fits within the age range of PG-13 and under). Acquiring the rights to the stage show Hamilton also makes it clear that Disney are not afraid to purchase something outside of their own wheelhouse, which opens up the possibilities of anything going to the service in the future.
They have original programming too; High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, The Mandalorian and Muppets Now just to name a few with more to come in the future. This doesn’t even include the films and documentaries that they seem to be adding every month! I didn’t even know I wanted a show called The Last Secrets of Nasca (which sadly is not about cars) or Gordon Ramsey Uncharted (which sadly does not feature him swearing at any chefs or elephants) but the service offers it if you get fed up of never ending Star Wars.
A year on from release and having all the content available from the “Disney Vault” (aside from a few oddities) is still something that seems so novel. They have decades of original content that was very hard, if not impossible to get hold of. There’s still something to be said about being able to search for a random saturday morning TV show and finding it on the service, you just can’t find forgotten gems like that on other services because Disney has them all exclusively.
The coronavirus does not seem to have had any effect on new content for the service. It can be argued that in spite of COVID-19, Disney has adapted to a streaming friendly digital model much faster with their “Premier Access” release of Mulan, albeit to the disdain of cinemas worldwide. Content wise, it doesn’t seem that you can really fault Disney+ for their current output in regard to current affairs of the world.
In the last month we’ve heard that Disney are reorganising their whole company to have an emphasis on streaming – this includes releasing the new Pixar film, Soul, straight to Disney+ on December 25th (Merry Christmas subscribers!). They’ve added GroupWatch to their featureset so you can watch all that Disney Corp content with your pals over the internet (no strange third party addons needed anymore) and Walt Disney’s streaming division has also gone into the archives and retroactively added unskippable warnings for racist content stating “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”
Even considering how big Disney+ is only a year into its life cycle, unless something goes horribly wrong with their content plan the service looks like it can only get bigger and better in the future. It’s an interesting time for streaming services right now, all competing for your time (and money) and with Disney throwing serious funding into this race the stakes can only get bigger for everyone involved.