At Disney’s long-awaited investor day on Thursday, where it unveiled details about its upcoming streaming service Disney+, the message was clear: Netflix, watch out.
Over the course of a three-and-a-half-hour presentation on Disney’s Burbank lot, chairman and CEO Bob Iger and an array of other Disney executives rattled off facts and figures about the company’s direct-to-consumer push, and showed sizzle reels featuring content that will be featured on Disney+ when it launches on November 12 this year for $6.99 a month. The result was an ambush of familiar, beloved entertainment brands from Star Wars to Pixar to Marvel to The Simpsons–which, due to Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox, will now have its exclusive home on Disney+. When the service launches, all 30 Simpsons seasons will be available to stream.
Also available on Disney+ in November will be all 18 Pixar feature films, every Star Wars movie, 250 hours of programming from NatGeo, and more than 7,500 episodes of television, including new, original series like High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and The Mandalorian, a $100 million, 10-episode series created by Jon Favreau and set in the Star Wars world.
“We are all in,” Iger told a theater full of investors. “We believe that is the best way for this to succeed,” he went on, referring not just to the content offerings on Disney+ but the bullish numbers that Disney is projecting for the service: Between 60 million and 90 million global subscribers by 2024, the same year that Disney expects the service to be profitable.
Disney also stressed how it would use “the power of our brands and our consumer touch points,” said Ricky Strauss, head of content and marketing for Disney+, to market the service in a way that sounds aggressive even by Disney standards. The company will lean into ABC, FX, FreeForm, Hulu, Disney theme parks, cruise lines, and beyond to target potential Disney+ subscribers, Strauss said. “The entire company is actively supporting” this push. “There truly is no bigger priority for the Walt Disney Company going forward.”
Indeed, Disney used the day to showcase all the ways in which it is the world’s biggest entertainment company, with tentacles and entities that expand around the globe. Hulu, which Disney now controls, will begin to roll out internationally, and Disney says it expects the service to grow from 25 million paid subscribers to between 40 and 60 million by the end of 2024. Another portion of the presentation was dedicated to Hotstar, the India-based streaming company that Disney now owns thanks to the Fox acquisition and that had more than 300 million monthly active users in March. This data point was yet another shot across the bow at Netflix, which has been struggling to gain a meaningful number of subscribers in India.
Another company Disney showed up on Thursday was Apple. Less than three weeks ago, Apple held its own razzle-dazzle unveiling event in Cupertino to discuss details about Apple TV+, its own entertainment streaming app. Only there were very few details. Instead, the event felt like a self-congratulatory cocktail party with A-listers like Steven Spielberg and Oprah grinning feverishly onstage and sharing how excited they were to have been invited to Cupertino. Only one brief sizzle reel for the whole service showed any footage of Apple’s original shows, and a launch date and price for Apple TV+ were not mentioned.
Disney, in contrast, was a study in B-school professionalism, with executives–nearly all of whom were male and dressed-down in crisp suits with open-necked white shirts (including the normally casual Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who did keep his signature ball cap on)–strutting out onstage as they ticked off statistics and information about content that will be available on Disney+. Of course, Disney had its own talent on hand, including Favreau, who discussed The Mandalorian and introduced a clip for the new Lion King, which he directed. But everyone onstage was on point and purposeful. The effect may not have been warm and fuzzy, but it seemed to appease its Wall Street audience.
The only weak link on the content side is some of the original programming planned for Disney+, which has a DVD extra quality to it. For example, there’s Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2, which will follow the film’s cast, music team, and other creators to “showcase our collaborative environment in a way we’ve never shared before,” said Jennifer Lee, head of Walt Disney Animation. Another series will go behind the scenes at Pixar. And NatGeo is producing a series that gives “unprecedented access,” said Courtney Monroe, president of National Geographic Global Networks, to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.
By hour three, when Agnes Chu, senior vice president of content at Disney+, boldly stated that Disney+ is “the only streaming service that at its foundation has this breadth of storytelling for a global audience,” it was hard not to agree.
Seven months from now, Netflix will finally have real competition.