Starting next month, residents of the UK (and later, people in other European countries) will be able to subscribe to DisneyLife, Disney’s first standalone streaming video on demand service.
For £9.99 a month or about $15 US dollars, the service will provide access to Disney and Pixar films, including all Disney animated classics, from Bambi and Sleeping Beauty to Finding Nemo, Frozen and Toy Story. There’s even a hint that it may include other Disney-owned properties, including content from Marvel and the Star Wars franchise.
While some observers are calling it Disney’s “Netflix Killer,” it’s a reflection of the world’s largest entertainment company’s need to address Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime (and in the UK, Sky’s Now TV) and reach viewers beyond the tradition pay TV (cable and satellite) packages. Just this week, YouTube announced a $9.99 a month subscription service covering video, music and gaming, a paid offering that follows its YouTube Kids product launch in the US earlier this year.
It also comes as the empire that Walt Disney built is shaking things up at its sports programming powerhouse ESPN, which is in the midst of downsizing its corporate HQ as it faces its own challenges of streaming video (such as Yahoo streaming the NFL globally in a test webcast) and growing mobile content consumption and cord-cutting.
When DisneyLife debuts in the UK next month, it will feature Disney Channel shows (one year after their linear TV release), Disney and Pixar films, and non-video content in the form of music and books. Its content will be available on home computers as well as mobile and tablet devices (via an Apple and Android app). It will be available in five languages at launch, with more to follow when it rolls out to other European markets.
“DisneyLife is a great example of our strategy to utilize technology to connect with consumers in more direct and compelling ways, something that only Disney can do,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
As Bloomberg notes, “While Iger has said he believes in the pay TV bundle, in which cable and satellite distributors sell packages of channels to consumers, he’s also said he’ll consider offering programming directly to customers when appropriate.”
Movies will appear after their traditional run in theaters and pay TV outlets, but it’s the library of thousands of children’s TV show that may convince frazzled parents to pay for a subscription. The complete Pixar catalog is another huge draw, along with Disney classics including Jungle Book and The Lion King.
“This is the future in many respects,” said Iger to The Financial Times. “There is a general sense the world is going in this direction. Families are accessing entertainment in completely new ways but their love for Disney and our unique characters and stories remains the same.”
For consumers, it means that online streaming services are starting to add up much the way that pay TV cable subscriptions did, with British families now faced with subscribing to Netflix for adults plus DisneyLife for kids.
Analysts at Ampere told The Guardian that if a family “gets film and TV services from all the main subscription players – Netflix, Amazon, Now TV and DisneyLife – it would cost £450 a year. And that’s not counting the odd couple of quid purchase of a film or TV from a plethora of services such as Apple’s iTunes, Sky Store, Google Play, Virgin Filmflex or BT Box Office.”
“There are now a series of what individually appear to be very cheap services,” Richard Broughton, research director at Ampere Analysis, told The Guardian. “But if you are family with diverse tastes wanting Disney for kids, House of Cards (on Netflix) for adults and the latest movies and documentaries from Amazon and Now TV, it is going to cost an awful lot. Except for a small number of high-spend households that want everything it is not sustainable for consumers to take all these services.”
As Broughton also told The Guardian, the services in the fledgling UK streaming market—the oldest of the main players, Netflix, launched just three years ago—”are carving out distinct content offers which consumers will gravitate to depending on their tastes. Disney is specifically targeting the youth end of the market with Ampere estimating it will build to probably about 1 million paying subscribers, more niche than the current and growing levels of Netflix (4.5m), Amazon Prime (1.5m) and Now TV (1.2m).”
VICE founder Shane Smith, who is gearing up for a major expansion of his youth-targeted media empire across Europe, told The Guardian that he sees the market for more tailored streaming services getting a lot more crowded.
“It’s pretty obvious where everything going,” he says. “It is going a la carte. if you aren’t looking at mobile consumption then you are in trouble. Disney is smart. Everyone is going to launch an OTT [internet] service or they will not get a direct-to-consumer relationship. Every media brand has to be platform-agnostic. The offerings out there will be many and they will be varied. Yeah, it may be more expensive if you want everything. But then it may be cheaper if you just want your stuff.”
Consumers will be looking closely at what programming each of the streaming video services offers, with hot series like Game of Thrones a feather in the cap Time Warner’s HBO. Just last week, as Forbes notes, HBO CEO Richard Plepler challenged pay TV providers (like Comcast and AT&T) to join him in the quest to convince millions of cord-cutters to subscribe to over-the-top service HBO Now.
“Why wouldn’t you want to take a product like HBO… and make it a part of your package, and share the revenue with us?” Plepler said, referring to the $15 a month that they would split if pay-TV providers offered HBO Now with their Internet broadband-only subscription.
Forbes applauds Disney as “the first major multi-media power house to launch a direct-to-consumer subscription service that includes not just video, but also books and music. Think about the leverage of a multi-media offering by Disney, with its quality content and loyal followers to start with. And then imagine the possibilities to offer a unique experience: Tarzan book readers watching related videos on the side, or Star Wars viewers clicking on buttons to buy related merchandise, and many more multi-media cross-selling opportunities.”