The House of Mouse is getting bigger by the month. Adding extensions, breaking down walls and opening its doors to the public like never before, the company that has produced a lion’s share of family entertainment for almost a century is now the home of film and TV for families across the globe. And the doors are only opening wider.
Next year promises to be a big one for Disney. Back in July, shareholders approved the planned £54 billion takeover or Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, and barring any hiccups that deal will be completed in 2019. Disney has already taken ownership of TV networks like ESPN and ABC. This comes off the back of a record breaking financial year for the company, making $12.6 billion dollars in revenue. It’s onwards and upwards for Mickey and friends!
A number of high profile movie releases are also planned for next year. This includes live-action remakes of animated classics like Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King, as well as the yet untitled Avengers 4 and Star Wars: Episode IX. Not to mention all the theme parks and attractions that the company runs. Walk out of your home and into the world, and it’s almost guaranteed that a sign of Disney’s global presence is not too far away.
Also planned for the near future is Disney+, a new streaming service which will explicitly lock horns with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. In 2017 Disney publically told Netflix about its intentions and let them know that distribution rights for anything under their jurisdiction would be withdrawn. This covers the rights to the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, amongst other things. Disney+, described as a family-orientated streaming service, will have automatic rights to some of the most popular content out there.
Announcements have come thick and fast in recent months, including two Star Wars spin-off TV series. Most intriguing is The Mandalorian, a show that chronologically sits between Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Force Awakens (2015). It will follow a lone bounty hunter who eludes the authority of the newly established republic – and as recently teased on social media, beloved cult character Boba Fett will likely make an appearance. Also announced is a spin-off series for Cassian Andor, a rebel captain first seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). This will be set before the film and will follow the early formation of the Rebel Alliance, with Diego Luna reprising his role from the film as Captain Andor.
Marvel is getting the TV treatment too, specifically for characters denied solo films in the lead up to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Audience favourite Loki will be getting his own series, with Tom Hiddleston returning to the role of Thor’s mischievous brother. Scarlet Witch, a character first introduced to audiences in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), is also getting her own show. Like the Loki series, Elizabeth Olsen – who plays Scarlet Witch in the films – will return for the series. Also announced recently is a TV team-up starring the Winter Soldier and Falcon, who will be brought onto the small screen with original stars Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie taking centre stage. Marvel mastermind Kevin Fiege is deeply involved in all of this, and each series is expected to be anywhere from six to eight episodes long. Expect big budgets to be thrown behind these projects.
Other planned projects include a series derived from the beloved animation Monsters Inc. (2001) and everybody’s favourite Zac Efron movie High School Musical (2006). Watch this space, because it is very likely that more announcements will be made before the end of the year.
Arguably what Disney is trying to do with all of these announcements is to strike fear into the competition. Add all of these announced projects to Disney’s already sizable collection of movies and TV shows, and Disney+ is in a formidable position to take the streaming market by storm. It already has enough potential pulling power to draw in millions of viewers with relatively little marketing on its part. Even if it fails, Mickey Mouse will dive a bit deeper into his pockets and produce more cash to keep it going until the momentum has been built up. Disney’s advantage is that it already has its fingers in so many pies that it doesn’t matter if one of them goes rotten. The revenue will still be quite tasty.
Netflix meanwhile don’t have anything else, and are already racking up what boss Reed Hastings describes as “quite sustainable” levels of debt. They are not worried right now, nor should they be with 137 million global users and shows such as Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things. Several Marvel shows like Daredevil and Luke Cage have however been dropped by Netflix, possibly in preperation for Disney’s dramatic entrance into the market. Any tilt in the balance of power may see Netflix having to cut back on investment, meaning that originals such as The Crown could suffer as Disney’s influence in the streaming sector grows.
This does not mean, however, that anything under the Disney label will automatically be purged from Netflix. Given the family-orientated focus of Disney+, more adult-themed shows such as Iron Fist may not be included on the platform. While Netflix have cancelled that series anyway, Marvel were keen to see Iron Fist continue in some way or another, so never say never. Jessica Jones is also still going strong, with a third season coming out in 2019. Disney+ does not equal certain doom for Netflix, but it does mean that some serious soul-searching and forward thinking will be needed if it wants to keep producing high quality television. We will only see exactly how concerned Netflix are when Disney+ pilots in the US next year.
The idea of another streaming service has not been met with universal excitement. Would you pay anywhere between £7 and £10 per month to have Mufasa’s tragic death or Troy Bolton’s emotional career change at your fingertips? Not everyone would, it seems. Some customers are a bit miffed at the idea of having to pay for another streaming service on top of all the others. It is not clear yet what prices Disney will charge for its new streaming service, or if it will copy Amazon Prime and offer discounted rates for student users. It would be unwise to rely purely on the pulling power of beloved classics or modern blockbusters if it turns out that people don’t want to pay extortionate amounts to watch them. Given the fierce competition Disney+ is likely to face, exactly how much it charges for exclusive content could make or break its future.
Disney are not alone in dipping their toe into the stream. YouTube are planning a subscription service that will remove adverts for certain videos, while Apple is set to release a TV service launch next year as well. AT&T is planning a new streaming service, and they own American channel HBO – meaning that the likes of Game of Thrones, Westworld and True Detective will be at their fingertips. Netflix, in response to new challenges, has also signed a new deal with Paramount, suggesting that if TV series do become too challenging for the company then the emphasis may switch to originally produced movies instead. Disney+ may well emerge as a success but cannot take this for granted. Unless it wants to be drowned out by a new flurry of competition, Disney will have to make sure that what they offer is more appealing than what anyone else can promise.
Disney+ represents the latest ways that one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world is finding an ever increasing presence in our lives. Not content with sitting comfortably in cinemas, Disney is moving into the home and promises to bring entertainment directly to families everywhere, but it is not without risk. Disney will have to pull out all the stocks to make sure that this mouse does not blindly wander into a trap. Or the end result could be messy.
Photo: Ellen Blunsdon