The success of nostalgia: Disney Plus challenges the big platforms in the battle of the new television
15 months ago, Disney Plus entered the new television market without fear, but with great respect. Netflix sat comfortably on the throne and its main competitors like Amazon Prime and HBO were fighting for the crown. It seemed that the market was taken over by the giants and pioneers. But if anyone knows of castles, crowns and tales with happy endings, it’s disney. In recent months, surprising even its own owners, the company has done nothing but gain users, reap successes, set trends and, according to experts, scare off the competition. Now it is a mouse who makes Netflix tremble.
Today, Disney Plus has 95 million subscribers – almost double the number it had in November, 50 million – according to the first fiscal quarter earnings report published a few days ago by the company. It’s still far from Netflix’s 183 million, Amazon Prime’s 150 million, and HBO’s 140 million. But it is a success achieved in just 15 months. Disney’s figures rise to 146 million if subscriptions for other company products are taken into account, such as Hulu (38.8 million) and ESPN Plus (11.5 million). Disney also predicts that its streaming they will reach between 300 and 350 million total subscriptions for fiscal year 2024. And the market is looming as a prosperous scenario.
Broadcast television (streaming, in English) already supposes a 25% of the global television market, after capturing about 900 million of users, according to latest hearing report from the data measurement and analysis company Nielsen Holdings. But beyond the numbers, the success of the company can also be attributed to two of its strengths: its extensive and iconic catalog and the success in doing the opposite of its competition.
Successes, princesses and families
Unlike Netflix, Disney doesn’t promise a new TV show or movie every day. And if it produces and releases new content, it does so dropwise, episode by episode (as with Wanda Vision Y The Mandalorian) and not to full seasons like Netflix. Nor is he on the lookout for hit movies or TV series from other production companies to feed his billboard. His bet is on the classics and the successes he already has; although some date from 1950, like Cinderella.
For José María Benito, director of the Specialization Diploma in TV Series Production and professor of Audiovisual Market Structure at the Villanueva University, there is a very clear logic behind the Disney Plus strategy in its pulse with Netflix. “Disney has already made a huge investment to acquire productions with a fandom [una aficióna] millionaire and studios at the level of Fox, which limits their share of investment in new original production, ”says Benito. And it suggests that’s why the company hasn’t been mass-producing new content, or at least not at the level of its competition.
“Its strategy is to exploit its catalog and increase its investment effort in original productions as the incorporation of new subscribers allows it. On the contrary, a Netflix with less wardrobe, has no choice but to attract new subscribers by flooding its production platform of others and originals, with huge investments, “he explains. And for now, the millionaire investment for Mickey’s house is not so urgent.
“The Disney Plus strategy stems from the company’s assurance that its catalog is and will be highly demanded and consumed in the family environment,” says Nicolás Grijalba, professor of Film History and director of the Degree in Audiovisual Communication at the Nebrija University. “No matter how much innovation we want to see, Disney Plus is Disney, that is, the all-powerful mega-company that has always ensured family entertainment,” he says. Elena Neira, a researcher specialized in new audiovisual distribution models, agrees. “Obviously, the scenario in which Disney Plus has grown is very different from Netflix’s, as the market is more mature, it has an ideal situation due to the increase in consumption of online entertainment in part due to the pandemic and muscle in the form of intellectual properties that make the platform very attractive because it covers a unique niche: families ”, emphasizes Neira.
If it is about publics, Disney Plus has gone for the most faithful, or at least that is confirmed by their data. Benito emphasizes the children’s audience of families and the opportunity that exists in developing countries. “To a greater or lesser extent, in the world there will always be a child audience, especially in less developed countries, which are those with the highest birth rate. As long as they continue to grow economically and increase their standard of living, subscription to payment platforms will be normal, as it is now in these countries to have a mobile phone, for example ”.
In Latin America, for example, the number of subscribers goes up by giant steps. In 2018, Netflix had around 17 million users in the region. According Statista, it is expected that the number of Netflix subscribers throughout Latin America exceed 34 million this year and reach more than 42 million subscribers in 2025. According with a study of the Institute for Health Metrics and Assessments of the University of Washington released by the BBC, Latin America and the Caribbean will have their highest population point in 2055, with 715 million inhabitants.
The power of the classics should not be underestimated, especially since they appeal to nostalgia and nostalgia sells. The success of Disney Plus is living proof. For many adults it is a way to relive good childhood moments with the Tarzan, Snow White or The Lion King movies, and transmit that emotion to their children. “The classics will always be there for adults, parents and the youngest,” says Grijalva, although he emphasizes that not only do the spectators live on classics and that novelty is also the order of the day. “That is why the Disney machinery has not stopped and the constant review of these classics, the humanization [rodaje con actores de clásicos de los dibujos animados] of them —as a general rule with disappointing results in quality, not so much at the box office— is there and it works, “he explains.
But even if your content line responds to very diverse audiences and your catalog has a specific scope, new content will always be necessary. “Disney is ready for it,” says Neira, and the successes of the platform’s latest releases (such as Wanda Vision) plus the company’s plans prove it.
Beyond reviving the classics with new technologies, Disney has promised new titles. In December the company revealed that it is behind the production of 105 new movies and television series. But to launch them, they will stick to their strategy: they will release them over the years, not all in 2021. That is, they will not make a Netflix. “In a way, it makes sense that this company is [Disney] the one that proposes a certain relaxation in the production and exhibition of content, because it is also a way of regulating the compulsive consumption that we have experienced in recent years ”, suggests Grijalva. And it is that being exposed to so much new content – which has increased due to the confinement derived from the coronavirus pandemic – can tire the viewer or disinterested them, as happened with Quibi, a mobile platform promoted by great movie stars that failed loudly.
Disney’s lesson is clear. Faced with the crisis, we must innovate. The company saw how the pandemic emptied its fourteen theme parks distributed in Los Angeles and Orlando (USA), Paris and Hong Kong, one of its main financial muscles. It also suffered from the crash of the cruise industry and the abandonment of movie theaters. But Disney Plus, which today is its goose that lays the golden eggs, has put the company to sleep peacefully, for now.