This image provided by Walt Disney Co. shows Disney+ on a tablet. The Burbank entertainment company on Thursday laid out its streaming strategy for investors. (Disney)
Ryan Faughnder and Meg James
Walt Disney Co. pulled back the curtain on its highly anticipated streaming service Disney+, revealing key details about what content will be available on the app, including Disney classics and original shows and movies.
Disney’s new service will launch Nov. 12 and cost $6.99 a month, Kevin Mayer, head of Disney’s direct-to-consumer business, said Thursday at a long-awaited investor day at the company’s Burbank headquarters.
Disney gave investors the first real glimpse into the company’s streaming strategy, which is fueled by a cadre of powerful franchises such as Marvel, “Star Wars,” Pixar and “High School Musical.” Wall Street and entertainment industry figures have been eager to learn moreabout Disney’s secretive plans.
The Disney+ app is an attempt to compete with Netflix Inc. and others in the streaming arena as audiences increasingly turn to online services for their entertainment. Disney+ is part of Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger’s broader strategy to adapt to changes in the media landscape, as people increasingly eschew traditional cable television packages and expect more films available in the home.
The investor day comes less than a month after Disney completed its $71.3-billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, including its movie and TV studios, cable networks including FX and FXX, international television properties and Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu, giving Disney 60% of the streaming service. The deal was largely driven by Iger’s desire to own more intellectual property to compete with streamers that are spending billions each year on their own original content.
“This is an exciting time, and it is also a challenging time too,” Iger said. “The combination of Fox and Disney will enable our 96-year-old company to thrive and to grow and to be even more relevant as we head into our second century.”
The gathering of investors, analysts and journalists was held in a cavernous soundstage on the Disney lot that was converted into an auditorium. The stage was built in 1949 and used to shoot the original “Mary Poppins” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” “Star Wars” Stormtroopers greeted analysts and investors at the door. A giant screen featured a projection of sparkling plus signs resembling pixie dust.
Disney kicked off its presentation with sizzle reels, showing clips of Disney films, ABC news clips, and the building of Disney’s theme parks, along with such Fox properties as “The Shape of Water” and “Avatar.”
Mayer took the audience through a virtual tour of its service, which is organized into five distinct brands that will have their own series and films on the app: Disney, Marvel, Pixar, “Star Wars” and former Fox property National Geographic. Disney’s content will be available for consumers to download onto their devices for offline use, Mayer said.
“We have worked extremely hard to make sure that our content shines through with an interface that is visually stunning,” Mayer said. “We have the brands that matter, which is the single biggest differentiator for our service.”
Disney took pains to showcase the company’s impressive array of popular brands that will be funneled into the service. Disney+ will be the permanent home of animated films including classics such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Bambi.” It will have Pixar films, Marvel movies such as “Captain Marvel” and the “Star Wars” film saga. Also joining the app will be 250 hours of National Geographic content and a trove of Disney Channel programming.
In a major announcement, the company said the first 30 seasons of Fox’s “The Simpsons” will be available on the service. Fox will continue to air first-run episodes of the iconic animated TV show.
Disney plans to spend more than $1 billion on original content in fiscal 2020 for the streaming service. Disney+ is projected to have 60 million to 90 million subscribers, mostly from international markets, and be profitable by 2024, executives said.
Addressing the relatively low cost of the ad-free service, Iger said, “This is our first serious foray into this space, and we want it to be available to as many people as possible."
The heads of each of the studio’s divisions were on stage to talk about the original content on Disney+.
Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, said the service will have a documentary series about the making of the upcoming film “Frozen II.” Pete Docter, Lee’s counterpart at Pixar Animation, said Bo Peep of the “Toy Story” franchise will get her own short film called “Lamp Life.” The company is also making a series called “Forky Asks a Question,” featuring a new character from “Toy Story 4.”
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige teased original shows for the service, including “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” featuring characters and actors from the Marvel feature films.
Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy brought Jon Favreau onstage to talk about “The Mandalorian,” the upcoming “Star Wars” series about a bounty hunter five years after the events of “Return of the Jedi.”
And Sean Bailey, who heads Disney’s live action film production, touted “Noelle,” a holiday comedy starring Anna Kendrick as the daughter of Santa Claus, and the studio’s live retelling of “Lady and the Tramp.” Bailey promised that the productions for the service would be "treated with the same love and care as our theatrical" pictures.
Disney executives also gave presentations on Disney’s existing direct-to-consumer businesses, including ESPN+ and Hulu. Mayer said Thursday that the company would “likely” allow subscribers to purchase Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu in a discounted bundle.
Mayer briefly touched on Disney’s plans to expand its direct-to-consumer offerings around the world, including introducing ESPN+ in Latin America. He also said the company planned to roll out Hulu internationally but did not offer details. Hulu has 25 million subscribers in the U.S., making it one of the biggest players in the streaming market.
“There is still tremendous upside,” Hulu CEO Randy Freer said.
Additionally, Disney highlighted Hotstar, an advertising-supported streaming service it acquired through its Fox purchase. Though few people outside India know about Hotstar, the platform has 300 million monthly users.
Hotstar, which will be Disney's fourth streaming service, already home to more than 100,000 hours of Indian dramas and the service provides Cricket matches in Indian languages, not just in English. Star and Disney India Chairman Uday Shankar said that India is ripe for growth because the country has more than 600 million consumers younger than 25 — the largest youth demographic in the world.
The confab has been seen as a potentially pivotal moment in the coming battle for streaming audiences. Netflix has 150 million subscribers and puts out a rich variety of prestigious original shows, such as “Russian Doll” and “Glow.” But Disney’s advantage is its deep library of family-friendly movies and programming that kids are apt to watch repeatedly. Disney is also betting it can draw Marvel and “Star Wars” fans hungry for new lore in each series.
“While the direct-to-consumer space is growing, it’s also becoming a more crowded space, where brands matter more than ever before,” Mayer said.
Apple Inc. last month talked up its own programming slate at an event in Cupertino, Calif., featuring Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon. That showcase largely fell flat in Hollywood because of a lack of specifics and footage.
AT&T Inc.’s WarnerMedia, which owns “Game of Thrones” network HBO and film and TV studio Warner Bros., is also planning its own service for late this year.
During his remarks, Iger gave a shout out to the vision and creativity of the company’s founder, Walt Disney, and added that current corporate leaders were building on the legacy with the acquisition of the Fox assets and the push into digital distribution.
“Borrowing from one of Walt’s greatest strengths, it takes courage.” Iger said.