Commercial Awareness Personal Commentary

To Infinity (And Beyond!): How Did Disney+ Do It?

“To infinity…and beyond!”

Buzz Lightyear.

The incredible recent growth rate of Disney+ has surpassed even their own original expectations.

Disney originally set an ambitious target of having 60-90 million paying subscribers for their new streaming service by the end of the fiscal year of 2024. By comparison, Netflix currently has somewhere in the region of 180 million subscribers. It’s certainly an ambitious target to try and scale a new service to a direct competitor on that scale. It’s especially the case when that plan almost certainly involves trying to win over business from that market-dominant competitor as well as having to compete with other comparable services such as YouTube.

However, in the space of just five months, Disney+ has racked up over 50 million subscribers and is well on its way to reaching its 2024 targets before the year is over. This is before the service has even launched in a number of populous regions and areas that could skyrocket this growth even further, such as Japan and South America.

Disney parks.


So, what happened?

Firstly, Disney is obviously a well-known household name and one of the most recognisable brands in the world. In its near 100 years of existence, the company has built an (arguably) unrivalled array of intellectual property and original brands across a plethora of media forms – TV, film, live-action plays/tours/performances and more.

More recently, it sought the rights to other big-ticket names such as National Geographic, Marvel, Fox and Star Wars to add to its already impressive collection. Those names alone could have their own articles documenting their impressive growth over the last few decades and now all of them reside (in some capacity) under Disney’s influence.

It was clear from the outset that Disney+ was going to launch with a huge potential viewership base given the popularity of these franchises and threaten competitors such as Netflix. It’s still not yet clear how many subscribers might ‘jump ship’ from one service to the other as a result of these exclusivity deals, or if users will instead decide to subscribe to both services (if at all) in order to have full access to their favourite shows and content. However, the exclusivity arrangements Disney have in place with regard to the above franchises in the streaming world have clearly attracted customers and will almost certainly help retain them.

In addition, the impact of COVID-19 cannot be overlooked. Although the circumstances surrounding it are obviously troublesome and worrying, there are few better scenarios to launch an on-demand streaming service than when governments are mandating everyone stay at home. This is bolstered by the fact that, with schools closed and parents being forced to work from home with kids, Disney+’s obvious appeal to younger/family audiences have placed it right at the forefront of customer’s needs and interests at this time.

Child watching TV.

Disney were also smart enough to capitalise on this by bundling Disney+ with a number of bundles, affiliations, free trials, price plans and subscription lengths in a similar fashion to many other streaming services. This helped give those who had heard of the service and who were hesitant to sign up for it – either as paying customers for other streaming services or more frugally-minded sceptics – what it was all about.

Finally, unlike Netflix, Disney is obviously much more than just a streaming company. Either directly as part of their business, or through their many partners and subsidiaries, Disney are involved with almost every version of (multimedia or otherwise) entertainment, consumer touch-points and publishing thinkable. Their ability to project and market the service across their many channels and partners gives them a huge competitive advantage to leverage the above factors.

Disneyland.


The big question is: is this going to last?

The short answer is most likely no – it would be an extreme feat for Disney to continue this breathtaking rate of growth (almost doubling its subscribers every few months) ad infinitum. It’s also going to take considerable amounts of time for Disney to come close to challenging Netflix’s dominant market position to the point where it might surpass them in subscriber count (if at all).

In addition, Disney will have to worry about making sure all of this short-term growth – generated for some of the reasons outlined above – actually translates to long-term business in the same way it has for Netflix. It’ll certainly be interesting to note how Disney’s subscriber base changes as mandated lockdowns are eased and the current pandemic comes to some form of conclusion – whatever that may look like and whenever that may be. Original content, new series ideas and perhaps further licensing/collaborations may hold the key.

At least for now, Disney can enjoy it’s astounding achievements to date – and perhaps start drawing up some slightly amended goals for 2024 and beyond…


This article was originally written for Elkamy.

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