Streaming is an arms race, with the same morals

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Disney+ has passed 100 million US subs. The gamble of going direct, cutting out the service provider middlemen, has paid off. Among its objectives now must be to make inroads internationally into the lead held by Netflix, the pioneer of D2C.

The weapons in this war of attrition are: pricing, marketing and content. Disney doesn’t believe in discounting and is unlikely (beyond introductory offers) to do any price matches; it doesn’t want to emulate a business model where, for all Netflix’s market share, profitability is still a stretch, particularly if its debt becomes more expensive. On marketing, it starts with one of the world’s best known and most trusted brands, so it needs no lessons here. And on content; well, just like in football, talent, and its performance, is just a numbers game.

And what numbers. It takes a lot of money to have the top talent on your books – and Disney is trying to outgun even Netflix’s eyewatering content budget, promising to spend $33 billion in 2022 on Disney+ and Hulu. But even when you do you have the Galacticos on the books, you can’t be sure they’ll perform as they have elsewhere. So, you also have to be nurturing new talent, as well and trying to revive old talent. And yet, it is still possible to have a season full of turkeys.

But you cannot afford to let the pressure in the content pipeline fall. Binge watching and increasingly pocket-wise subscribers will turn away unless there is a constant eyeful of new shows to try.

What you also cannot afford is too many principles. So, Disney, along with many, many others, choses easy ones like anti-slavery supply chains and green goals – great but not really in the wheelhouse of creativity and freedom of expression. Meanwhile, when it launched in Hong Kong in November, Disney+ quietly dropped an episode of The Simpsons that made reference to 1989’s Tiananmen Square demos and shootings.

As with the World Cup in Qatar, or golf and tennis tournaments in Saudi, or F1 in Bahrain, there is always only one all-conquering principle at play.


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