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Where Is Disney+’s New Content? Depends Who You Ask

Steve Anderson

Disney+ is well-known for some of the biggest and best original content out there. “The Mandalorian” alone gave us a whole new meme in Baby Yoda, and that’s just for starters. If you’ve started to notice that there’s been a bit of a drought of new content emerging from the House of Mouse lately, you’re not alone. Disney is clamoring for new content, but actually getting it out the door seems to be increasingly problematic. Worse yet, pinning down the actual cause of the problem is proving to be a behind-the-scenes drama that’s a match for anything Disney has already put out.

Naturally, the most frequently-cited issue when it comes to new content delay comes from Covid-19. California still has some extremely stringent protocols for Covid-19, even in a world where much of the economy has been reopened. Back in late July, reports were emerging about slowing production and even halted production in some cases. A September 30 report also had a slate of delays in both production and release dates for live shows and movies. So, certainly, Covid-19 is rearing its ugly head once more in terms of production slowdowns and other issues.

However, there’s more going on than just Covid-19. A report from The Information notes that a recent shakeup at Disney may be contributing to some of its production problems. Over a dozen separate reports from Disney insiders detailed that CEO Bob Chapek’s recent plan to separate the teams responsible for budgeting from those responsible for production may be causing some of the issues.

One example of this is the recently-started “Percy Jackson” series. For those not familiar, Percy Jackson is the tale of a young man who discovers he’s actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon. Naturally, this puts him in all sorts of adventures; when the movies came out beginning in 2010, there was hope this would be Disney’s answer to the hotly-popular “Harry Potter” series. Ultimately, the movies got shelved.

Despite the script emerging last year, a new “Percy Jackson” series isn’t expected to start shooting until sometime in 2022. It’s a big project, so it will take a certain amount of time to get all those ducks in a row. But the project has taken longer than usual to prepare mainly because of a series of executive departures and other internal bureaucracy deck-shuffling, reports note. Further, the problems don’t just stop at Disney+. Writers at ABC have reported some issues getting their shows picked up by the network as well. Trying to figure out who’s in charge required Disney to create an entire town hall featuring ABC News anchor Juju Chang as moderator, but left many just as confused as when they went in.

All of this may be bad enough, but there are even some reports that suggest Disney+ is having issues with its own internal vision. The streaming platform has a wide range of competitors in play, but it’s trying to figure out how best to actually compete with them. While its initial focus was on the major tentpole brands like Star Wars and Marvel properties—that well may be running dry.

As a result, Disney is frantically bouncing around in search of an identity. A David Kelley series known as “Big Shot” about a girls’ basketball team caused headaches because of an episode involving bullying. Some at Disney championed the topic, some feared it would harm the company brand.

There’s only so much budget available, and the demand for original content is steady and massive. While Disney can shell out $15 million to make an episode of “The Mandalorian” pretty readily, if it tried to do that for every bit of original content it put out, it would quickly run out of cash. With Disney’s theme park properties still limping in the Covid-19 era, there’s less support from that front too. The Parks & Products division posted its first profit in over a year back in August.

Disney needs content. It’s amazing that that should be an issue, what with the massive Disney vault available to the company, but Disney clearly needs content and it needs it immediately. With Disney+ developing an identity crisis and a host of competitors eager to chow down on Disney’s lunch, the company needs to get its head back in the game, focus, and deliver content to a market that’s constantly hungry for something new, different, and original. One place where Disney might be able to get some of that content is to tap the nostalgia market. Since Disney now owns ABC and Fox, there’s a legion of shows from the 1980s and 1990s that could potentially make fodder for Disney. With the rights already under its control, it could be a worthwhile stopgap measure that allows Disney to take advantage of nostalgia content for a comparative song.

That’s a temporary solution, but a solution nonetheless. The big problem here is quite clearly process. Disney needs to get a handle on who’s in charge of what. With issues cropping up over who approves what and who handles what matters, Disney’s internal development processes are going to remain stymied. It has all the content it needs and can probably get more. But with Disney not even sure what it wants to put out and how far it wants to go—the issues at “Big Shot” prove that much out; Disney would routinely do episodes of shows addressing bullying—with what it does put out, Disney will remain stuck.

No matter where Disney gets its content, it’s going to need a big slug of it, and soon. Churn is a permanent part of the landscape in streaming services, and if Disney+ starts running out of new-to-the-viewer content, it’s going to start losing those viewers in short order.

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