Tech Savvy: Disney+ success grounded in powerful brand recognition

The catalogue is limited and leans heavily toward family-oriented content, but one's unlikely to find a better assortment of blockbusters, childhood classics and AAA-rated popcorn fare than Disney+.

A Disney+ sign is displayed during a media preview of the Disney+ streaming service at the D23 Expo 2019 in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 22, 2019. Bloomberg photo by Patrick T. Fallon.

If you decide to jump on the Disney+ bandwagon, chances are it won’t be the usual selling cards that draw people to streaming giants like, say, Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.

Nope, Disney+ doesn’t have the kind of huge catalogue with a little bit of everything to satisfy most preferences. Quite the contrary, actually, because the Disney+ lineup of movies, shows, documentaries and other content comes woefully short of the aforementioned giants. Frankly, a dedicated viewer could probably watch the whole offering in less than three weeks, if they wanted to. Is that a long time? Sure. Is it Netflix-in-its-mid-2010s-heyday long? Most certainly not.

On the other hand, the catalogue isn’t particularly diverse. What images come to mind when you think of the word Disney? Old animated classics like “Sleeping Beauty” or “The Fox and the Hound?” Maybe it’ll harken back to discussions you’ve had about how Disney’s ownership of massive franchises like Marvel or Star Wars will pan out? Maybe you’ve been disappointed, or pleasantly surprised, by new live-action remakes of Americana hallmarks like “Beauty and the Beast?” Is it feel good? Comforting? Maybe a bit juvenile?

If that’s the case, then you already have a good idea of what Disney+ has to offer.

The catalogue is narrow, heavily skewed toward childhood nostalgia and the parent company’s distinctive product of factory-grade manufactured joy. You’re not going to see gritty, morally ambiguous dramas like “Breaking Bad” or “The Sopranos.” You’re not going to see arthouse, or small-budget independent flicks, or even internet-based alternative content. Can you even call it a Disney+ original if a movie was around decades before the internet, let alone streaming, ever existed? It’s not that what’s there is bad, it’s that there isn’t much there to begin with.


No, what you’ll find is Disney — the mouse; pure, unadulterated, straight into the veins.

In everything from politics, to religion, to business, is there anything more intangible, yet more valuable than name (or brand) recognition? And cultural clout, if nothing else, is what Disney+ has in spades. There aren’t many options in terms of entertainment, but how many people can say they wouldn’t sit down for a classic Disney film? Star Wars? Marvel? Avatar? Pirates of the Carribean? Indiana Jones? Pixar?

There aren’t many market footprints, but wow, aren’t these footprints enormous?

This has a tendency to make the streaming service a bit top heavy compared to, say, Netflix where a viewer can mosey through new and unseen options for literal hours on end.

A year after launch, Disney+ now controls a robust 11% of market share, threatening to pass Hulu (12%) for third place behind Amazon Prime (22%) and Netflix (33%), but this trend is largely driven by spikes with a few select titles. Primarily, the animated family flick “Frozen II” and the Star Wars show “The Mandalorian,” are heavyweights, while the release of Broadway hit “Hamilton” led to a 641% surge in new subscriptions. However, while it means people are signing on, it doesn’t mean they’re being retained, evidenced by a 30% drop in subscribers only a month after Hamilton hit the small screen.

This is the fate of a streaming service that, so far, has little to truly call its own. The streaming user interface is a sleek, solid piece of design, but it’s effective because it borrows the bulk of its features from Amazon Prime and Netflix. It’s monthly subscription price of $6.99 is competitive (for now), but does its anemic offerings compare to the mid-2010s when consumers could get the whole Netflix catalogue for only $7.99 a month? Beware buyer, Hulu used to be free. And even when one considers its Marvel films, Star Wars sagas, classic Disney vault and all the rest — do these really feel like something that’s fresh and native to Disney+, or merely a second helping of old films, shows, and content that really belonged in the movie theater?

This probably won't last long, however. There’s a solid chance that the Walt Disney Co. will commit more and more to streaming, with more and more original titles on the docket. Its saccharine, made-to-order brand of nostalgia will continue to be a fixture of the 21st Century just as much as the 20th. In all likelihood, Disney+ will continue to expand and take its place among the streaming giants, but, at least for now, if there’s a selling card for Disney+ it’s Disney itself and Disney only.

And, really, when you consider what a cultural force Disney is today, is there a safer bet in entertainment than the mouse?


GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .
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