Disney’s New Streaming Service Will Be Unavailable on the World’s Most Popular Streaming Devices
The Walt Disney Company said Monday that its Disney Plus subscription video streaming service will premiere Nov. 12 through devices including Apple (AppleTV, iOS), Google (Chromecast, Android TV), and Roku.
But the list is most notable because of what it omits—Amazon’s FireTV. And Fire is the most popular streaming device line worldwide, recently claiming 34 million active users versus 29 million for second place Roku, according to TDG Research.
Whether in the form of a box or a stick, streaming devices perform most of the functions of a traditional cable box, but deliver programs via the internet instead of cable. They’re part of a broad and still-accelerating trend towards “cord cutting”— consumers leaving cable for online services.
Nearly 30% of U.S. broadband users have a streaming device, according to TDG.
FireTV’s lead isn’t massive, and though the companies don’t disclose their number of users by region, Roku may still have a slight edge in the U.S. That’s because, as TDG puts it, Amazon sells Fire TV hardware “aggressively” worldwide, while Roku, a much smaller company, is focused on the U.S.
The omission of FireTV from the Disney Plus launch lineup may be temporary and relatively inconsequential. "This is likelier a last minute 'carriage fees' negotiation and not some deliberate freeze out by Amazon or Disney," says Stephan Paternot, CEO of film financing platform Slated.
FireTV’s global skew, though, may lead Disney to push harder in any negotiations. Disney Plus will roll out in a limited slate of countries, starting with the U.S., Canada, and Netherlands on Nov. 12, then expanding to Australia and New Zealand on Nov. 19. That tiered rollout comes as Disney exits content-licensing deals with broadcasters and streaming services worldwide, including removing a variety of its own movies and shows from rival Netflix. Putting Disney Plus on FireTV might be less appealing while Disney is still preparing for a truly global rollout.
But FireTV still has millions of users in the U.S., likely outnumbering those who watch on less popular devices including PlayStation 4 or even the declining Chromecast. A willingness to leave those subscribers on the table, even temporarily, suggests the absence of FireTV from the Disney Plus debut could have some larger strategic motive.
Amazon may have concluded that giving Disney real estate on the Fire would hurt its own video offerings through Prime. Alternately, Disney may have decided it could somehow harm Amazon by withholding its content from Fire.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. A Disney spokesperson said the company anticipates “finalizing agreements with additional distributors prior to the Nov. 12 launch of Disney Plus.”
"In the end, it’s in the best interest of both parties to work together, and they’ll likely work this out," says Ian Morris, CEO of Likewise, a website that helps viewers find streaming video content. "But when is another question. In the short term, this obviously impacts Amazon subscribers the most and may leave them scrambling to find where they can access Disney Plus content."
By 2021, Disney Plus is expected to be available nearly worldwide, but no other rollout dates for specific countries have been announced. It will cost $6.99 monthly, or $12.99 as part of a bundle with Hulu and ESPN+ —the same price as Netflix.
Update 8/20/19: Updated to include a statement from Disney.
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