How Disney+ Impacted the Streaming Market With What Hulu Pioneered
WandaVision is only a few more days away. We just got the first reactions to the show’s first three episodes, and it seems we are in for a curious mystery. The upcoming Marvel Studios’ series are embracing the weekly release model that Disney+ introduced with The Mandalorian. It was in stark contrast to Netflix’s approach, which made the concept of binge-watching a household regularity. They tend to release their eight- to thirteen-episode seasons in one day. So, anyone can sit down and watch the entire series in one sitting. It was the streaming standard for some time. Well, that was until The Mandalorian switched things up during the launch of Disney+ in 2019.
The House of Mouse decided to release their episodes weekly in the same vein as classic television. It was a massive success for the new streaming service, as people were discussing the latest episode and reveal of the Child. Word-of-mouth would spread and add new subscribers to the platform, as everyone wanted to know why everyone is talking about Baby Yoda. Of course, the show hasn’t released every episode yet. So, each week would come with Social Media buzz, discussions, and theories. Disney+ didn’t invent the weekly release, as it was something another Disney-owned service had been doing for a while. Hulu has been a pioneer in this department by sticking to their weekly release schedule, which got highlighted in a 2015 review with Hulu’s VP, Craig Erwich:
We value the shared experience and the joy of the water cooler that is television
The buzz surrounding The Mandalorian was no small feat and quickly got Amazon’s attention. They then decided to release the second season of The Boys weekly to build up some hype with each episode’s release. It sounded great on paper, as they could add more relevance to the season’s overarching plot, but it ended up becoming quite the controversy. The series got review-bombed for taking this route. It was a considerable shift for the series, as the initial season was available to binge-watch on Day 1. Netflix has also been embracing a weekly release with a few shows, such as The Great British Baking Show in late 2019. Their dominant strategy will remain with binge releases, but it certainly proves Hulu was correct to stick to their guns.
Now, why did this shift only really start to get traction across streaming markets after Disney+ copied Hulu’s model? Well, it most likely has to do with branding. Yes, it sounds a bit too simple, but Disney’s name gets a lot of attention. Hulu did have Disney-based intellectual properties, most notably Runaways, but didn’t have the same kind of build-up. It also is only available in the United States, so the buzz that existed was strictly kept to local markets. Disney+ was smart and focused on popular IP-based series, such as The Mandalorian building on the hype of being the first live-action Star Wars series. They also are very deliberate with pointing out that WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and the many other future Marvel shows are marketed as Marvel Studios’ productions.
It also has the selling factor of being a hub for all Disney IPs alongside the promise of high-quality productions. You have a perfect recipe for a new streaming service to enter the market and disrupt it. 72.4 million new subscribers by November are proof of that. Hulu’s limited availability also is a key factor here. Instead of expanding the brand, Disney is more focused on adding its content library to Disney+ through the STAR brand, which will help boost its standing internationally. Netflix will most likely stick to their binge format, but we could see them explore this concept with other shows. Amazon’s test with The Boys‘ second season was certailny successful. It was so popular enough to give Netflix’s highest-rated shows some fierce competition. Disney+ may not have revolutionized the streaming market, but it certainly left quite an impact on how others in the market will approach their scheduling moving forward.