Disney+ is an interesting addition to the streaming service market. Even though it’s a rather new addition to the market, it has already reached 54.5 million subscribers. That is almost near the minimum forecast they wanted to reach by 2024’s fiscal year. Don’t forget that Disney also owns Hulu and ESPN+. The latter getting its name in 2017 long before Disney+ was revealed. Unlike Netflix, it does have one limitation and that is the Disney branding. We associate specific values with the word and they are naturally very keen on keeping it that way. So, we won’t see any adult-themed stories on their streaming platform anytime soon. Well, at least that is what we assumed.
Those wondering, Hulu is Disney’s more adult-themed channel. It has no direct ties to Disney’s branding and has fewer limitations. One only has to think back at the move for Disney+ to move Love, Victor to Hulu. This was mainly due to the show feeling “more adult” and made it unsuitable from a branding perspective for the family-friendly service. It’s also a reason that a large part of the 20th Century or Touchstone Pictures library still hasn’t been included. The Mandalorian included some darker moments but still manages to balance the family-friendly content. Marvel isn’t innocent either if you just think of some of the gruesome deaths characters go through. Yet, the service felt the need to “fix” some elements in other films and shows to make sure their family-friendly brand remains consistent.
This won’t work long-term for the service. Netflix has no limitations on its content. Sometimes even embracing the more R-rated stories as a sign of little restriction they face. Disney+ tried to counter this by creating bundle offers. You can get a subscription that includes ESPN+ and Hulu to make up for the lack of content. This is great for anyone who lives in the U.S. but not international viewers. There were plans to launch Hulu internationally back in February by 2021 but there seems to have been a change in goals. Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced at the beginning of August that they would be launching a brand new Star-branded streaming service for international markets. His statement was as follows:
“In terms of the general entertainment offering internationally, we want to mirror our successful Disney Plus strategy by using our Disney Plus technical platform, bringing in content we already own and distributing it under a successful international brand that we also already own, which is, of course, Star.”
There is no word if Star will only be made available internationally while Hulu remains in the U.S. market. Plus, Disney Star Studio is already known overseas as it was taken over as part of Disney’s Fox deal. It originates from an Indian media conglomerate known as Star India. It made sense to use a well-known brand in key markets to expand internationally instead of working from scrap with Hulu. Yet, it’s a waste to not expand Disney+ which is the main international streaming service for the brand. Well, it looks like there might be more to this story. Bill Hunt, the founder of Digital Bits, shared a tweet about some potential developments:
Hearing interesting reports from sources in the last couple days that Disney is creating essentially a more adult section of Disney+ that will require pin code access. And that's where all of the Fox and MGM content will go moving forward. Including lots of #4K. @thedigitalbits pic.twitter.com/xoDsPn0rUy
— Bill Hunt (@BillHuntBits) August 19, 2020
This opens up a whole can of worms. The timing couldn’t be more evident as Star will likely be integrated into Disney+. In the quote I added earlier, Chapek clearly states “using our Disney+ technical platform”. So, the expansion could mean that when starting Disney+ you have the option to switch to the family content or the Star-branded adult content. The brand is called Disney Star now, so its a fitting inclusion. Hunt‘s tweet does mention a pin code access, which would act as the parental controls similar to what Nintendo does in their eShop.
This way they can also push their other owned brands like MGM, Fox, or Tombstone Picture. These are well-known brands that could be highlighted in the service similar to how Disney+ handles Marvel, Star Wars, or Pixar. Plus, if they keep the Disney branding with Star, they will diversify the “only family-friendly” image of their content. It is an exciting prospect because the recent purchase of very adult-themed brands forces Disney to explore new ventures. We’ve already seen this with the expansion of a Premium Section for Mulan– They could potentially break free from their iron-clad image to showcase what they’re capable of.
Looking at the Pirates of the Caribbean films with their dark pirate-filled world, it feels like they’ve been trying for some time. Now with 20th Century’s library, they can focus on more adult and R-rated content without the shackles of the past. It was even an important promise made by Disney in their 2019 investor’s call when talking about films like Deadpool. If handled right, this could be a turning point not just for the streaming service but for the Disney brand overall. They’ve grown to such an extent they can’t hide behind family-friendly forever. It’s time to expand and show that Disney more than just the sum of its parts.