Can Disney Plus be a formidable global challenger to Netflix?

Editorial Team -

Can Disney Plus be a formidable global challenger to Netflix?

The writing is on the wall. It is already well-established that Netflix is the biggest OTT platform in the world at the moment. With global content that resonates with everyone across various languages and geographies, it is no surprise Netflix has managed to rack up 193 million subscribers globally. However, it is not short on rivals in any geography. Among these rivals, Disney+ appears to be the most formidable.

Launched in 2019, Disney+ took the decision of merging with its sister platform Hotstar in India this year, obviously to take advantage of Hotstar’s massive existing subscriber base.  With content from the huge catalogues of Disney (animated and live-action films), Pixar (animated films), Marvel Studios (animated and live-action films), Lucasfilm (the Star Wars universe) and National Geographic (non-fictional content), Disney+ seemed to offer a very good deal when it launched in the US at USD 9.99 per month. In no time, it has amassed 60 million subscribers globally.

But there are caveats to the above statement. A substantial portion of that number comes from India, where Hotstar had already built a subscriber base thanks to the Indian Premier League, Pro Kabaddi and the huge bank of Star India’s television shows across multiple languages. Also, a lot of Disney+ Hotstar subscribers pay for the cheaper VIP tier at INR 399 a year, with the Premium tier remaining a niche proposition at INR 1499 a year.

The problem with Disney’s approach is that it still thinks of Disney+ as a value add-on to its other entertainment properties such as theme parks, movies and merchandise, then as a future bellwether. It has hardly spent anything on creating original content for Disney+, and instead relied on its massive back catalogues of movies and other content. And that is why, in this pandemic, the conglomerate is suffering huge losses. Netflix, on the other hand, has no problems on this front. It already spends a lot of money—actually, most of its revenues—on original content across the globe.  At last count, it was spending close to USD 14 billion a year for content production.

Another problem with Disney+ is its “family-friendly” image. A number of subscribers don’t prefer subscribing to the platform unless they have families with kids or are huge comic-book fans. Even though Disney also runs adult-oriented content on Hulu, such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Catch-22 in the US, no one knows Hulu internationally. Since Disney’s entire focus is on rapidly expanding Disney+, this becomes a big stumbling block in their progress. In contrast, everyone knows Netflix as an ocean of content catering to all sorts of demographics.

It is not as if Disney+ can never challenge Netflix. Netflix has been around for over 6 years as a premium streaming platform, and building its huge subscriber base took a lot of time and effort. While Disney+ is very likely to go past its original target of 90 million subscribers before 2024, it will go down the same road as Netflix. In the absence of adult-programming, however, Disney+ could keep remaining a distant second to the juggernaut that is Netflix.


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