The Disney+ Effect
Disney+ is creating waves that are rippling across the film industry-- and their effects could be here to last.
Written by: Cara Robbins
Today in film and TV, streaming is king. This has been apparent since 2013, with the immense popularity of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” one of the first original series distributed exclusively through a streaming platform. Since then, streaming has held on for nearly a decade as audiences’ preferred method of watching their favorite shows and movies. The reason is clear — streaming offers an overwhelming amount of options for audiences to watch immediately and from the comfort of their own home, with only a small monthly charge. And with COVID-19 preventing many movie theaters from selling tickets, the popularity of streaming services has skyrocketed to an all-new high in the past year and a half.
Since its original release in 2019, Disney+ has become the new game changer in the film industry.
But much like any other element of the film industry, streaming is always evolving — and the latest big change in streaming is having a rippling effect on storytelling that cannot be denied. Since its original release in 2019, Disney+ has become the new game changer in the film industry.
The Strategy of Disney+
Disney+ certainly broke the mold when designing their strategy for the platform. In fact, Disney’s strategy for encouraging new subscriptions, retaining subscribers, and encouraging consistent watching habits can be broken down into three main approaches:
1. Releasing new episodes weekly
This is certainly not a revolutionary change, seeing as this was standard for several decades before the rise of streaming. Nevertheless, releasing new episodes every week instead of dropping an entire season at once has been a way that Disney+ separates itself from other platforms. Older streaming platforms, such as Netflix and HBO notably rely on customers to binge their shows, which impacted the story structure of “bingeable” shows such as “Stranger Things” and “Game of Thrones.” By changing to a weekly release, Disney+ encourages people to keep their subscription month after month, and also builds a general sense of anticipation and excitement each week for the next installation of their favorite show.
2. Treating releases as events
Similar to the strategy of releasing episodes one week at a time, Disney+ also has a tendency to not release too many big shows all at one time, unlike Netflix and Hulu. Many Disney+ originals are released one at a time, and social media teams advertise and tease the series months before they ever hit the platform. Because of this, people will be buzzing with excitement for shows like “WandaVision” or “The Mandalorian” before they air. This strategy makes the release of new shows on Disney+ feel more like the premiere of a long-awaited movie. In other words, each new series becomes an event that builds intrigue and excitement in the fan base.
3. Expanding on existing universes
Very little of the content on Disney+ features fresh stories in brand-new worlds with completely original characters. Instead, Disney has used its already existing characters and universes to create series and movies that it knows its audience will want to see. This also provides Disney+ with a certain ability to cut corners with hooking its audience. For example, with the series “Loki,” Disney+ did not have to work to make the audience connect with Loki’s character — they had already done this in past Marvel movies. Disney+ did not have to work to establish a new world with new rules — the universe of the story has had its conventions designed for years, and most people watching “Loki” would already be familiar with them.
The Impact of Disney+
Though many in the film industry have criticized Disney+ strategy, the real proof of its success lies in the audience. The commercial success of the platform proves that whatever Disney+ is doing is right, according to the fanbase. Because of this, other creators in the film industry are taking notes.
1. The Witcher
Years before the first season of “The Witcher” hit Netflix, Andrzej Sapkowski’s eight-book series by the same title had already built a well-developed fanbase and inspired a trilogy of video games. Taking cue from the strategies of Disney+, Netflix seized on this already massive universe and strove to make it bigger. Over the next few months and years, Netflix has already announced that mass addition of content within the Witcher universe will be added to the platform. In addition to a second season of the series, this features “Nightmare of the Wolf,” a spin-off animated movie featuring Vesemir, a beloved character from the books and games (similar in style to “Loki” or “WandaVision”). Also coming soon is a prequel series called “The Witcher: Blood Origin” (similar in style to “The Mandalorian” serving as a prequel to the more recent Star Wars movies).
And much like Disney+, Netflix is not backing down from making “The Witcher” universe into an event to be talked about. CD Projekt Red, the creator of “The Witcher” video games, has already announced a free next-generation remastering of its most popular game, “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” in honor of the second season of the series. Not coincidentally, there are rumors of a fourth Witcher game in the making by CD Projekt Red due to the increased interest in “The Witcher” universe after the creation of the series.
2. Doctor Who
In the coming years, most screenwriters that adapt their scripts according to the influence of Disney+ will do so quietly. However, this is certainly not the case for the next showrunner of “Doctor Who,” Russell T. Davies. Instead, Davies is already excitedly discussing how his vision for the next era of the show will largely be modeled around Disney+, according to Screenrant.com. The path Davies wants to take is ambitious —including creating a Doctor Who channel, launching as many spin-off series as possible, and specifically catering to fan wishes by including more crossover episodes.
This is a huge indication that Disney+ is the new king in film, seeing as “Doctor Who” is a show that has learned over its nearly 60 years of run time how to remain relevant and maintain viewership. This is especially true for Davies, who served as showrunner of “Doctor Who” from 2005–2010, and is solely responsible for the show’s 2005 reboot and subsequent success.
Considering Davies’ experience, if he believes Disney+ is the key to creating successful streaming content, he’s probably right.
The film medium is constantly in a state of flux, and the influence of different movies and shows are often hard to identify — and even harder to track. With that in mind, it has still become clear as day in the past year that Disney+ is the new platform reigning supreme. The next few years will almost certainly see an influx of series and movies that follow in the footsteps of Disney+. Whether or not audiences will appreciate these same tactics coming from companies other than Disney+, however, remains to be seen.