Just when it feels like almost every major entertainment provider is rushing to launch a new subscription video platform, the Walt Disney Company steps into the fray to really shake things up. The House of Mouse hopes that its Disney+ will rival Netflix as the must-have streaming service that consumers can't live without, and comes armed with a huge catalog of popular brands to achieve that goal.
With Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, National Geographic, and (obviously) Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Animation in its portfolio, Disney is the biggest entertainment conglomerate in Hollywood and has a powerful cachet with audiences across all demographics, especially parents and families. Disney+ is aimed to tap into that market by building on nearly a century of brand appeal and offering a compelling selection of content from the company's most popular properties. The following is a rundown of all the things you need to know before subscribing.
Launched in 2017, the DisneyNOW app consolidates content from Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, and Radio Disney into one ad-supported streaming portal. Disney is also the majority owner of Hulu.
While it might seem like starting a new streaming platform now would compete directly against those it already owns, Disney+ is not intended to replace either DisneyNOW or Hulu. The company's plan is to focus Disney+ on family-oriented material. Movies and TV shows geared more for older audiences, which might include R-rated films or TV-MA programs, will go to Hulu instead. (Note that the lines between these two types of content may be a little porous in the middle regions.)
Meanwhile, DisneyNOW will continue its model of authenticated streaming for cable TV subscribers and will retain most of its current content with ads. However, much of its programming will also appear on Disney+, ad-free. Parents who'd prefer that their kids not sit through commercials while watching The Lion Guard or Mickey and the Roadster Racers may find some value in adding another subscription.
Formally announced a year ago and available for preorder since September, Disney+ launches in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands on Tuesday, November 12, 2019. Other territories will see a staggered rollout, starting with Australia and New Zealand on November 19. The United Kingdom, Western Europe, and Latin America will follow in 2020. Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific region are expected by September of 2021.
Disney wants its new platform to have a broad launch. Disney+ will be available on a wide selection of streaming devices, including: PC web browsers, Apple iOS and Apple TV, Android mobile and Android TV, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Roku, Chromecast, and (in a deal finalized late last week) Amazon Fire TV.
A subscription to Disney+ will allow up to seven users across ten different devices, four of which can stream simultaneously. Further, every account will offer unlimited downloads for offline viewing.
Selected programming will be available in 4K Ultra HD resolution with High Dynamic Range video in either the HDR10 or Dolby Vision formats, and some will also feature Dolby Atmos immersive surround sound.
Disney+ is aggressively priced at $6.99 per month. Although slightly more expensive than the recent $4.99/month Apple TV+ launch, the rate is notably lower than any of Netflix's current subscription plans, which start at $8.99/month. In fact, with no upcharge for 4K quality streaming, the Disney+ plan is most comparable to Netflix's $15.99/month Premium tier.
Disney+ subscribers who opt to pay for twelve months up front will receive a discount at $69.99/year, which essentially amounts to getting two months free compared to the monthly rate.
A Disney+ bundle package that also includes Hulu and ESPN will also be available on launch day for $12.99/month.
All subscription packages will automatically renew at the end of the designated period, but users can opt to cancel before the renewal date.
If you’re a Verizon subscriber with an Unlimited wireless plan or a new Fios Home Internet account, you can get a full year of Disney+ free. This offer will be available until June 1, 2020.
All other viewers wanting to give Disney+ a test-run can sign up for a free seven-day trial.
The company claims that Disney+ will offer 7,500 TV episodes and 500 movies. The bulk of that TV content will be comprised of over 5,000 episodes from Disney Channel programming, plus 30 seasons (more than 650 episodes) of Fox's animated mainstay The Simpsons.
The majority of Disney Animation and Pixar movies, from 1937's Snow White through 2017's Cars 3, will be available to stream at launch. Also ready to go out of the gate will be every Star Wars movie up to 2016's Rogue One, but only selected entries from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The missing MCU movies, as well as newer Disney Animation and Star Wars titles like Ralph Breaks the Internet or The Last Jedi, are currently licensed to other streaming platforms (such as Netflix) and will not transition to Disney+ until those contracts expire. Likewise, the Fox movie catalog is currently tied up with HBO, so you won't find any X-Men movies on Disney+ yet. That said, Disney+ will have James Cameron's Avatar at launch.
Movies produced by Disney subsidiaries from 2019 forward will forego Netflix and/or other licensing arrangements and will stream exclusively on Disney+ after their theatrical and home video runs, typically 6-8 months after theaters. The MCU's Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame will be available at launch. (Endgame was recently moved up from December 11.)
For reasons that seem clear enough, most of the marketing and hype for Disney+ has overwhelmingly focused on one new series. However, the service will launch with several exclusive shows and a few original movies.
Star Wars: The Mandalorian
By far the most attention-grabbing title in the Disney+ lineup is The Mandalorian, which follows the adventures of a bounty hunter through the sidelines of the Star Wars universe. Produced by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Lion King) and budgeted at $100 million for its first eight-episode season, the show promises epic sci-fi thrills and adventure, and will surely drive a lot of subscriptions. Taika Waititi of Thor: Ragnarok will direct the season finale.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series
Yes, that seems like one colon too many for a title. The former Disney Channel franchise gets a very meta reboot, in the form of a mockumentary about the students of the "real" high school where High School Musical was filmed staging a high school musical based on High School Musical. Is that clear enough? (For more, read our interview with the series' showrunner Tim Federle.)
Speaking of high school musicals, Kristen Bell hosts this docuseries that reunites a group of adults to restage the musical they performed together as teenagers. Spoiler: Not very many of them can still sing.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum
From the Disney-owned National Geographic banner comes a documentary series in which Jurassic Park star and noted oddball Jeff Goldblum explores the world to investigate things that interest him, whatever that should happen to be at any given moment.
Marvel's Hero Project
The editors of several Marvel comics highlight inspirational true stories of real-life kids overcoming adversities.
Forky Asks a Question
In a series of ten shorts, the adorable Toy Story 4 character asks pressing questions such as "What Is a Friend?" and "What Is Time?" to help young children comprehend the often confusing world they've been born into.
Pixar in Real Life
Physical manifestations of famous animated characters pop up to surprise people for a hidden-camera prank show.
Disney+ will also provide a showcase for new Pixar animated short films. Although the first few already debuted previously on YouTube, later installments will premiere exclusively on the platform.
The Legend of the Three Caballeros
No trailer is available for this one at the moment. Donald Duck headlines a new animated series based on the 1944 feature The Three Caballeros. The show first premiered on Disney networks in Asia last year, but will make its American debut on Disney+.
Disney Family Sundays
Details are also sparse for this new crafting program hosted by Amber Kemp-Gerstel (a finalist on the first season of NBC's Making It).
Lady and the Tramp
The latest live-action/CGI remake of a Disney animated classic will not go to theaters, but will instead debut on Disney+. Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux voice the title characters, with support from Sam Elliott, Janelle Monáe, Ken Jeong, and Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham. Notably, the real animal portraying Tramp was an actual rescue dog, which goes a long way toward overriding any cynicism for the project.
Anna Kendrick stars in this holiday movie about Santa's daughter being forced to venture out of the North Pole for the first time when her father retires and her brother (Bill Hader), the designated heir, goes missing. The film also stars Shirley MacLaine, Julie Hagerty, and Billy Eichner. Rom-com screenwriter Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice) writes and directs.
The Imagineering Story
A documentary takes fans behind the scenes of the creation of Disney theme park rides.
Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II
Although perhaps not available on launch day itself, this making-of series is tied to the theatrical release of Frozen II on November 22.
The latest streamer to buck Netflix’s binge-release model, Disney+ will release episodes of its original series one episode at a time, weekly.
No one should be too surprised to learn that Star Wars and Marvel will make even bigger showings on Disney+ in the future.
After The Mandalorian, we can expect at least two more Star Wars live-action spinoff series, one based on Rogue One and another returning Ewan McGregor to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The animated Clone Wars will also be revived for a belated seventh season.
No fewer than eight new MCU series are in development. Those with announced titles include The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision, Loki, and the animated What If…? with further shows set to feature the characters of Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel. (Whether Jeremy Renner's recent domestic abuse scandal will put a pin in the Hawkeye show remains to be seen.)
Premiering next year, Marvel's 616 is an anthology docuseries (to quote the press materials) "exploring the intersection between Marvel's rich legacy of stories, characters and creators and the world outside your window." Comedian Paul Scheer and Community star Gillian Jacobs will each direct an episode.
John Goodman and Billy Crystal will reprise their roles in the Monsters, Inc. spinoff series Monsters at Work.
With a premise that sounds like a much less cynical version of Netflix's The Politician, the comedy series Diary of a Female President centers around a middle school girl with big dreams of becoming a future Commander in Chief.
Filmmaker Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) helms Timmy Failure, a movie based on a children's book series about an 11-year-old boy who plays detective with his imaginary polar bear friend.
Also known to be in the pipeline are a Hocus Pocus sequel and planned reboots of Fox properties Home Alone, Night at the Museum, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Cheaper by the Dozen.
Josh Zyber has written about TV, movies, and home theater for the past two decades. Most recently, he spent more than nine years managing a daily blog at High-Def Digest.
TOPICS: Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Diary of a Female President, Disney Family Sundays, Encore!, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Forky Asks a Question, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Hocus Pocus, The Legend of the Three Caballeros, Loki, Marvel's 616, Marvel's Hero Project, Monsters at Work, Pixar in Real Life, Pixar SparkShorts, Rogue One, The Simpsons, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Timmy Failure, WandaVision, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, ESPN+, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe