Disney takes on Netflix in the TV streaming wars

A major new US player has arrived in the television and film streaming market – and the UK is launching a service too. Matthew Partridge reports.

Woman watching tv at home © iStockphotos

The streaming wars are great news for viewers
(Image credit: Woman watching tv at home © iStockphotos)

This week Disney launched its new streaming service, Disney+, "with all the hoopla of a Magic Kingdom parade", says Lex in the Financial Times. And its claim that this "is not only a new era for the company but a statement about the future of entertainment" is a rare case of the reality matching "the showman's hyperbole".

This is because Disney's "vast back catalogue" makes it the "most credible challenger" to Netflix in the "great streaming wars" breaking out across the "media universe". The move has already boosted the company's share price.

Of course, Disney isn't the only company "wagering billions" that consumers will pay it a monthly fee to stream TV and films over the internet, say Amol Sharma and Joe Flint in The Wall Street Journal. Apple has already entered the market while AT&T, Comcast and NBC Universal are planning to mount their challenges to "streaming juggernaut" Netflix next year. The stakes are high: surveys suggest that Americans are willing to spend an average of $44 monthly on streaming video, up from $14 at present. Naturally "not everyone can emerge victorious".

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This "increased competition" among platforms "seeking viewers' time and attention" is starting to lead to "escalating budgets", says Amanda Lotz and Raymon Lobato for Fast Company. However, competition is tempered by the fact that they "all have different catalogues, pricing and strategies".

Note that Disney's concentration on kids, family and its popular Marvel and Star Wars content, along with its "lowball pricing of $7 per month compared with $13 for Netflix's most popular plan", means that Disney+ "is pitched as a service to have alongside Netflix". Also, while Disney and Apple "are following a more traditional US export model of media globalisation", Netflix is "spending considerably" on non-US shows.

The British entry

But "the jewels in BritBox's crown" will already have aired on television and been available for no charge on iPlayer or ITV Hub, which may limit demand, says Matthew Moore in The Times. And BritBox's library of "largely second-hand selections" pales in comparison to Netflix and Amazon's "seemingly bottomless buckets" of "big-budget originals". ITV's shareholders need to temper their expectations.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri