Disney takes on Netflix in the TV streaming wars

Woman watching tv at home © iStockphotos
The streaming wars are great news for viewers

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.

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”.

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

It’s not just American and international players that are entering the market. The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 have jointly launched BritBox, a streaming services that will offer a back-catalogue of British shows, for £5.99 a month, notes Matthew Field in the Daily Telegraph. While the service “will initially be focused on box-sets of older shows”, the broadcasters are planning “exclusive series” to be aired on BritBox. As well as fending off competition, the hope is that it will give ITV “more revenues beyond traditional advertising”.

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.