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Disney Plus Turns One Today, Here is the Streaming Giant’s Year in Review

Stephanie Sengwe

It’s hard to believe, but a year has already gone by since the launch of Disney+. The streaming service debuted in the U.S. on Nov. 12, 2019 and immediately took off.

Mere hours post-launch, the streamer’s website crashed due to a high volume of people signing up, causing the service to disable certain features — which should have be a sign for the growth that was to come.

Over the course of the last year, the streamer has managed to gain market share, and is a steady competitor against services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video which have dominated the market for years. In commemoration of Disney+’s one year anniversary, here are is the service’s year in review.

Disney+ Hits 10 Million Subscribers

Only 24 hours post-launch, the streaming service had already hit 10 million subscribers. It immediately became the number one app in the Apple iOS app store in both the US and Canada.

Baby Yoda for the Win

The streamer scored big with its first ever Star Wars live action series, “The Mandalorian.” With the internet swooning over Baby Yoda, the show took the No. 3 spot on a ranking of the most in-demand digital originals among U.S. viewers, according to Parrot Analytics.

They also reported that “The Mandalorian” had stronger U.S. demand than some of 2019’s biggest streaming originals — Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy,” “When They See Us” and “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,” as well as Amazon Prime Video’s “Good Omens” — in its first four days.

Disney+ Begins Worldwide Expansion

In March, Disney+ began its major market expansion, landing in the United Kingdom as well as other territories in Europe (Spain, Ireland, Italy, Germany, and France).

The Walt Disney Company had plans to launch the service in India on March 29, but had to delay because of COVID-19. Nonetheless, after a slight delay, Disney+ launched in India on April 3, rebranding Hotstar to Disney+ Hotstar.

Fresh off the launch in India, Disney+ made its way across Asia and launched in Japan on June 11. The service launched in partnership with NTT Docomo, Japan’s top mobile operator, who previously operated their Disney Deluxe service (whose users were migrated to Disney+).

In September, the service expanded to Portugal, Belgium, and the Nordics.

In August, the company revealed Disney+ would be making its way to Latin America including Argentina and Brazil on Nov. 17.

Disney+ Garners Millions of Subscribers by the Quarter

Since launching, Disney+ has only added subscribers by the quarter. In their first earnings call after launching the service, the company announced that Disney+ had amassed 26.5 million subscribers in its Q1 2020; 28.6 million subscribers as of February 4th.

The company announced that they reached 33.5 million subscribers in Q2 2020, but their numbers continued to climb and they were at 54.5 million global subscribers as of May 4. Of the 54.5 million subscribers, approximately 8-10 million of those came from their existing Hotstar service, which was rebranded Disney+ Hotstar for the April 3rd launch.

By August 3, the streamer was at 60.5 million subscribers after surpassing the 57.5 million subscriber mark they hit at the end of their third quarter in June 2020. With their Q4 earnings report coming out later today, we can expect the service added more millions to their subscriber list.

Disney+ Adds World Class Content to Platform

With the coronavirus shuttering theaters across the world, Disney had to adapt with Disney+.

First they moved up the release of “Frozen 2” on the streamer to March (from June). Then, they released Pixar-film “Onward” on the streaming service in April, just weeks after appearing in theaters. And, they released Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker in May, a few months ahead of schedule.

But, the biggest decision was to move the debut of “Hamilton” to the streaming service, 15 months earlier than it was even supposed to hit theaters. The film was originally slated for Oct. 2020, but instead made its bow on Disney+ on July 4.

The decision proved to be lucrative for the Mouse House streamer as “Hamilton’s” debut made a big splash. According to Apptopia, app downloads of the streaming service in the U.S. were up 72.4 percent higher “than the average of the four weekends in June 2020 over comparable time periods (Friday through Sunday).”

Following the success of “Hamilton,” Disney+ also debuted “Black is King” a visual album written, directed and executive produced by 24-time Grammy Award-winner Beyoncé on July 31.

With theaters still closed and no idea when they would be open and operating at normal capacity, the premiere date for Disney’s long-awaited blockbuster, “Mulan” came and was postponed twice, before the company decided to release the film as a PVOD on Disney+.

There was a caveat, however: “Mulan” was not included with the regular Disney+ subscription as “Hamilton” and “Black is King” were. Instead, it came out on Sept. 4 as a “Premier Access” offering for $29.99.

While there haven’t been any numbers on the performance of the film, the film managed to generate a spike of traffic for Disney+. While Disney’s CFO said they were “very pleased”, with the performance, they have yet to try it with any other film.

In September, Disney+ launched a feature called GroupWatch that lets you stream content with your friends.

In October, Disney announced that Pixar’s “Soul” was skipping theaters and heading straight to Disney+ on December 25th. The film was originally supposed to be released in theaters on November 20th.

Then, just two weeks ago, Disney+ saw the return of hit series “The Mandalorian” for season 2.

Everything hasn’t been roses though on the content side.

Due to Covid there has been delays to the release of previously announced Marvel series like “Falcon and the Winter Solider” (now slated for 2021) and “WandaVison”, which is still expected to come this year.

Without a robust 2020 film slate, with theaters being closed, there have been fewer new release films coming to Disney+, with films like “Black Widow” delayed to 2021.

There have also been disputes over what content should actually end up on Disney+.

Lizzie McGuire has been delayed, after the show runner exited after it was not “family friendly” enough for the service. This came after “Love, Simon” spin-off “Love, Victor” shifted from Disney+ to Hulu for the same reasons.

Disney+ Discontinues Free Trials

Since launching last year, one of the key aspects of Disney+ was the fact that users could check out all their hit originals for free, if they signed up for the streamer’s seven-day free trial. Well, the company put a kibosh to that model and axed their seven-day free trial option in June.

When new subscribers navigate through the sign-up process now, they are prompted to immediately begin paying for the $6.99 per month service (which is still heavily marketed as part of a $12.99 bundle with Hulu and ESPN+).

Disney+’s New Partnerships

Disney+ may have cancelled their free trials, but that doesn’t mean their quest to get new subscribers onto the platform is over. In August, the company announced they revamped their distribution deal with Verizon so that users on select Mix and Match Unlimited wireless plans, get Disney+, Hulu (with ads), and ESPN+ at no extra charge.

The new deal ended the initial offer the two companies made back in November, which gave Disney+ free for one year to all unlimited wireless customers.

The big question for Disney will be how many of those Verizon subscribers that got Disney+ for free, will stick around now that they have to start paying for the service.

The streamer seems to be gunning for gamers as well.

Fortnite gamers will get two months of Disney+ for free when they purchase a Skin bundle or V-Bucks with real money.

The company also announced that for a limited time, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can get their first month of Disney+ for free.

Disney+ is also one of the streaming services that will be offered on the new PlayStation 5 at launch.

What’s Next for Disney+?

The success of Disney+ has been better than anyone could have expected. In fact, they reached subscriber targets that weren’t expected to be hit until 2024.

They still have room to grow throughout the world, including expansion further into Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa.

For Disney+ though, the next stage is building out a robust catalog of original content. That’s the key to continuing to drive new subscribers and keep people interested long-term.

While they have been able to appeal to adults with “The Simpsons” and original series like “The Mandalorian” – customers have been asking for more. It would not be a surprise to see them bring more content like “Modern Family”, and “Malcolm in The Middle” (which was announced as the Disney+ launch).

A more radical change would be to add less family-friendly content from Fox and integrate Hulu/ESPN+ and its content more directly into the interface – geared to those Disney Bundle subscribers.

So while year one of Disney was all about driving subscribers, from this point going forward, it’s all about making sure they continue to innovate to keep them.