One of the goals of my website is to try to hold myself to a process. A process means I let the data guide my opinions, not fit new data or anecdotes into preconceived narratives. A good example of this comes from last weekend’s D23 Expo. This picture circulated widely of lines at kiosks to sign up for 3 years of Disney+:
All of these people (about 300 at the moment) are waiting in line to subscribe to Disney Plus for a THREE YEAR minimum commitment. Disney has 24 stations taking credit cards nonstop #D23Expo pic.twitter.com/CPhlfUiXOF
— Brooks Barnes (@brooksbarnesNYT) August 24, 2019
I saw a ton of positive cases. Look at all the sign ups! Look at people forking over their credit cards! This doesn’t even launch for 3 months!
Then I saw some skeptics on that. If it’s so popular, why aren’t there lines? Are we really that excited about the most super-fan of super-fans signing up for a service? Why give a discount for three years for something these fans MUST own?
Even these critiques could have critiques: No lines? Sure, it’s Disney. They are great at making lines short. And three years is a great long time to lock in customers. So in all, did the kiosks sign ups at D23 mean anything?
Who knows? Like all things, the best way to keep yourself honest is to put your predictions down ahead of time. Which is hard to do for a thing like “sign-up kiosks at D23” because you couldn’t have predicted that would happen ahead of time. At the end of the day, sign-ups at kiosks probably don’t predict future customer behavior nearly as well as something like Disney’s box office takeover. This is a minor data point, yet it functions as a Rorschach test, really just telling us if you’re bearish or bullish on Disney+. (Or Netflix, for those data points that come out.)
I’ve been thinking about this as I review Disney+’s content catalogue. I’m trying to approach this fresh. I’m worried about my decidedly positive positions about Disney’s strength will cloud my judgement.
This would be so much easier too, if I just gave in to the easy push for content. I could just pull a couple slides and confirm my own believes. Because if you take the Disney story from their Investor Day presentation, a slide like this…
Then how can you not come away impressed? Or they drop these next two slides about Marvel and Pixar dominance…
Then just write, “Look at that content!!! How can they fail!”
The problem? As I laid out yesterday, most of those Marvel movies (meaning more than 80%) won’t be on the platform at launch. Many Pixar films won’t be either. And quite a few live action films. So yes, Disney is doing well at theaters, but that won’t help Disney+ launch necessarily. And right now expectations for launch are going through the roof. Maybe we should temper them.
Which brings me to today. The TV side. TV on most streamers is say 60-70% of the value. (Really talking about Amazon and Netflix here.) For HBO, it’s probably 50-50. (Those Warner Bros, Universal and Oscar films matter to renewals.) For Disney, it’s probably 25-30% of the importance, considering how big/valuable the movies are. But if I look at the Disney+ TV library slate objectively—meaning not as a super-excited Star Wars fan; did you see that The Mandalorian trailer?—well, I have some concerns. (Again, this today is all about library content, since the new series are still mostly unknowns.)
Before we get to those, an update/equivocation on yesterday’s article.
An Update to Disney Princesses and Disney Animation
Most of the data I used yesterday came from two places: this LA Times article with confirmed Disney+ films and Bob Iger’s description of the content. An eagle eyed reader pointed me to the Disney Investor Day presentations and it had this quote from Jennifer Lee (head of creative for Disney Animation):
Classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King – the entire 13 film signature collection – will all be available on Day 1 of the U.S. launch of Disney+. Previously kept in the vault, they will now be available to everyone to watch anytime you want as a part of your permanent Disney+ subscription.
Those 13 signature films really are money. Those are the drivers of lots of the product, home entertainment and theme park revenue Disney was built on. Here’s their image:
Moreover, Lee specifically said they were pulling these movies out of the vault. That’s a pretty definitive statement that Disney is blowing up the vault. This would change my two tables from yesterday, meaning we go up to 9 of the 14 princesses:
Yet, part of me thinks something changed after investor day. Bob Iger was very specific about 8 Star Wars films and 4 Marvel films at launch…why not make the same statement about these 13 films? The Los Angeles Times it trying to get you to confirm your film animated films, and you confirm The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty…but not Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast? You just had D23 in front of the super-fans…shouldn’t these 13 films be on a poster blaring, “right from the start!”?
Listen, I don’t know. Back in January, Disney said Disney+ would have 500 films at launch, and that ended up being wrong too. (It’s 300 now.) Most likely the vault is going away, but it may not happen immediately.
(Note: If I hadn’t said before, my goal is to always be upfront with readers about what I do and don’t know. If I’m uncertain, well you should be too, especially about your competitors. Also, I love when readers send me tidbits and they always get my eternal gratitude.)
What We Don’t Know
Since we’re talking about known unknowns, obviously, my analysis is going to be shortchanged because Disney hasn’t released every film and TV series coming to its service yet.
In fact, we know only about 20% of the Disney films, or 60 of the 300 movies at launch. So that’s not a lot. Again, though, Disney likely confirmed the 20% most important films. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the films not mentioned are documentaries from Nat Geo. Those wouldn’t be nearly as valuable, obviously. (Also, a few Fox films will likely make the cut, and Disney is probably figuring out how to brand them still.)
Another black hole for data is the US versus international skew. This entire two day analysis has been US-focused. So my European—and especially London—readers can be rightly upset with me. Trust me, I want to be more international in my coverage but it’s tough. Just keeping up with Hollywood is time consuming. A lot of the quirks of content licensing I discussed yesterday will come into play here, region by region, country by country. I’d love to repeat this breakdown by those countries, but I don’t know.
So what don’t we know about TV content? Well, let’s get into it.
Disney+ TV: Why So Much Kids
Let’s start with overall numbers, with the caveat I had a tougher time finding projections for TV than for film. Then the labeling question question: what is more valuable, number of episodes or number of series?
This seems minor, but is a perfect example of how a lot of “data analysis” boils down to what matters for your business model more than anything else. Overall, episodes is better than series, since it represents the total volume of content. Though a few really, really valuable scripted series are arguably more valuable than a lot of smaller or reality series. Nevertheless, episodes is what we get more often. Here’s a great snap shot from Ampere Analysis that I saw in a few outlets (like Variety and Multichannel News):
And this is partly why I can’t tell you what I don’t know about Disney+ TV library, because they told us they’ll have 7,500 episodes, and confirmed 30 series for launch, but I don’t know how many episode those series have. But I can tell you one thing…
They’ll have a lot of Simpsons episodes…
662 to be specific.
With only 7,500 or so episodes, that means The Simpsons will make up roughly 9% of their total TV library. Which feels like a lot. So much so that I wouldn’t call this a smart library decision. Even worse, if you consider adult-only content, then Disney+ is almost all Simpsons content. How does this compare to other platforms?
Good and bad. Netflix, for the well-balanced side, for years had The Office and Friends (437 combined episodes) out of 47,000 episodes. That’s only 0.9% of TV episodes. Meaning even if those two shows weren’t your cup of tea, you had a lot of other options.
For the “Disney don’t worry, others are doing it too”, HBO Max may not be similarly over-indexed on a handful of shows. Between Friends, The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, that’s 777 episodes. If HBO Max triples HBO’s episode count (currently around 2,500 episodes on about 150 or so series), well then HBO Max will have three shows accounting for what The Simpsons does for Disney+. We can debate if this matters, but I’m curious if Disney+ goes hunting for additional TV series that fit the Disney brand, but appeal a bit more to adults.
My best candidate right now is Home Improvement, which is currently on Hulu streaming. I was really hoping I had a genius recommendation in adding more TGIF series, but most are owned by other TV studios, which will happen more and more in the great reshuffling. (Full House, Family Matters and Step-by-Step are owned by Warner Bros TV; Sabrina the Teenage Witch is a CBS series.) However, Dinosaurs (!!!) could make a comeback!
Or they may not care and simple say, “Hulu has 70,000 episodes. Go there.” Like Dinosaurs.
One other concern: Mostly kids content and reality
Did I take the list of TV series from the LA Times, find the episode count (where I could) and label it preschool, kids, family or adult? Sure I did. Then I arranged the list from oldest to youngest. Here you go:
By TV series, that’s a lot of kids content. By episode count, adult content will only make up 32% of the total. So if these series are representative of Disney+’s final output—which feels pretty safe at this sample size—then Disney+ really is a family-oriented brand.
I’d add, this is only a table of 20 series, since I couldn’t find reliable episode counts for 10 Nat-Geo series. So that could be another 300-500 episodes of mostly reality, most family, content to fill out the library. That would mean this 30 series account for about 40% of Disney+ final TV library content. (Which means we know a lot more than about film.)
My worry is that “family” labeled content quickly gets labeled “kids” content, which is what most of us think anyways. This means that for the subscribers out there who don’t have kids, the Marvel and Star Wars content (both films and original TV series) will have to do even heavier lifting. Again, this isn’t the end of the world, but clearly a gap in programming that could limit the eventual upside.
I wish I had a data-based way to value these TV series, but Nielsen over time just doesn’t tell the entire story anymore. Moreover, I don’t have access to that data either.
Other Good Reads
I relied on a few great resources that I recommend reading if you want to know more.
First, The LA Times really laid all this out. So start there if you haven’t clicked on the above links yet.
Second, BGR has a good take on not just the total quantity of series, which I mentioned earlier, but the quality as judged by Rotten Tomatoes.
And if anyone knows of any other deep content dives, let me know and I’m happy to update this.