This week’s big streaming story is the Disney+ addition of Star - a panel that allows users to view more adult-skewing movies and shows. Star is not available in the United States, so why did Disney roll out the option for some countries and not others?
In the U.S., Disney’s mature properties live on Hulu. There’s some speculation that Disney may eventually offer Hulu as a Star-like panel within Disney+ in time. But Disney may not need that feature in the short term because the stand-alone Disney+ has been so successful.
According to The Information, Disney+ currently has nearly 40 million U.S. subscribers - about 40% of its 100 million global users. Disney says India accounts for about 30% of its Disney+ subscribers, while Europe and Latin America make up less than a third of its user base.
Netflix is the dominant player in Europe and Latin America, with half of its subscribers living in those regions. That provides Disney+ a strong incentive to play catchup, and Star seems like their strongest card to play.
Disney+ added at least 12 million U.S. subscribers in the last 12 months. One year ago, the service had 28.6 million subscribers, but it was only available in the U.S. and four smaller countries. Disney+ expanded to western Europe last March and Latin America late last year.
The aggressive early growth of Disney+ was spurred on by its rock bottom price point and its American debut a few months before the pandemic hit. But as the service raises prices and the lockdown eases, we will see how Disney+ performs. Disney CEO Bob Chapek seems to believe that streaming is the company’s biggest growth area, but every media company will have some hard decisions around the strategy of theatrical vs. streaming releases.
The service has experimented with a “Premier Access” tier, where users had to pay an extra $30 to see “Mulan” earlier than the regular users. The Information reports that the film brought in $90 million in the first two weeks, but Disney executives were disappointed with the number of new subscribers who joined specifically to see the film. Disney+ will once again offer the premiere option for “Raya and the Last Dragon.”
Notably, Disney+ offered “Soul” without the added premiere fee, and that movie drove one of the largest subscriber increases for any title.
Another possible pitfall is franchise fatigue. Disney seemed to bleed its “Star Wars” fandom dry with five theatrical movies over five years, but “The Mandalorian” seems to have paid off. With so many Marvel Disney+ series in the works, is there a risk of exhausting another important fanbase?
Disney+ seemed to arrive at the right time with the right price to deliver eye-popping results. Now international expansion and sustainable domestic growth will be the key factors in the streaming battle ahead.