By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
April 12, 2019

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Some thoughts from Disney’s investor day at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., Thursday, where the entertainment behemoth announced its new Disney+ streaming service will debut Nov. 12th in the U.S. at $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year:

* Disney executives didn’t once utter the words Apple or Netflix (thanks, seatmate Dominic Patten of Deadline, for pointing that out to me). But their entire three-and-a-half-hour presentation could be read as a primal scream that Disney isn’t afraid of its Silicon Valley competitor/partners. When Disney CEO Robert Iger said that the new service is built on a platform “that no content or technology company can rival,” and when his possible successor Kevin Mayer, head of the company’s direct-to-consumer and international business, referenced “brands that matter more than ever” and Disney’s “evergreen library,” there was no question to whom they were comparing their own company.

* Disney’s rollout of its new streaming service will be a landmark case study in a legacy business attempting, with a show of force, to defend its turf. Disney boldly projected 60 million to 90 million worldwide subscribers to the service by 2025, fewer than Netflix’s customers today, but an impressive number considering the app currently has none.

* Disney will experience unquestioned pain with its new strategy. It will forgo considerable revenue from Netflix by no longer making its content available on the streaming pioneer. It presumably also will eventually pull from services like Amazon and YouTube its content currently available for rent or purchase. At the same time, Disney isn’t risking everything. With a few exceptions, it will still debut major films first in theaters and then bring them exclusively to Disney+. For example, Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Walt Disney Studios, said the much anticipated Frozen II film, to be released this summer, will stream exclusively on Disney+ “once it’s done with its theatrical release.” (A spoiler alert/tease from a clip played at the event: Lovable snowman Olaf tells loving royal sister Anna, “I don’t think Elsa’s okay.”)

* A few more things: A Phineas and Ferb movie (yes!). A bevy of behind-the-scenes documentaries to bolster Disney+’s offering; Iger’s avowal that he really will retire when his contract expires in 2021: “The board has been engaged in a succession process. They feel they’ll be able to identify my successor in a timely basis.” Mayer’s suggestion that Disney “likely” will bundle Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu into a package deal. How much the Disney+ app looks exactly like every other streamer’s user interface. That Pete Docter, the writer-turned-chief-creative-officer of Pixar—dressed in jeans, a white t-shirt, and an untucked flannel, in contrast to the variations of blue suits with open-collar white or blue shirts worn by nearly every other male Disney executive—was easily the best presenter of the day.

It’s an extremely exciting time when multi-billion-dollar global corporations compete vigorously and viciously for the great benefit of consumers and professional storytellers.

Adam Lashinsky


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