Family-friendly — that’s the first major detail offered to Deadline by Disney about their mysterious streaming platform set to launch in fall 2019. No R-rated film or TV-MA series will be found on the yet-to-be-priced service, answering some long-standing questions about how the platform will function and also what will become of Disney’s more edgy properties.
So Netflix isn’t completely out in the cold when it comes to superhero content. They’ll retain the Marvel series, including "Jessica Jones," "The Punisher," "Daredevil," "Luke Cage," etc. Additional movies and shows with Mickey Mouse’s fingerprints that cross the PG-13 line will be diverted to Hulu, where Disney maintains some ownership along with 21st Century Fox, Comcast, and Time Warner.
Disney aims to stay laser-focused on the sanctity of their brand and also spend less on production of original content. Netflix poured nearly $8 billion into the creation of Netflix Originals in the past year, and they intend to double down until 50 percent of their inventory is original content. Traditional studios should watch their back during awards season with such an ambitious plan by Netflix, one we already saw yield fruit with "Mudbound" (two nominations at the Golden Globes, four nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards).
Disney CEO Bob Iger views their endeavor differently, saying Disney “will not necessarily go in the volume direction that Netflix has gone” in a call last month with Wall Street analysts. “That’s not to suggest that we’re going to be low,” Iger clarified. “But when you go to market with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney … Using well-known IP — we’re making series based on Monsters, High School Musical, Star Wars — will give us the ability to probably spend less than if we’d come to market without these brands.” The price tag for 10-episode runs of these series? Somewhere between $25-$35 million.
Bob Iger’s stated trust in these recognizable names helps to explain the investment being made in the production of these series. Disney won’t be rolling the dice with a lot of unknowns and pet projects to get this platform started. First in line for debuts on the streaming service is a remake of "Three Men and a Baby," "The Sword in the Stone," and an adaptation of the children's book series "Timmy Failure." Also within the first year, expect to see a live-action "Lady and the Tramp," and "Don Quixote" reimagined by Billy Ray, the screenwriter behind "The Hunger Games."
Unquestionably, the most exciting aspect of the Disney service will be unfettered access to the Star Wars saga in its entirety. No more need to buy box set after box set every time Christmas rolls around. The platform will be home to all the films and also to multiple new Star Wars shows. Yes, you read that correctly, shows — plural!
Iger also told analysts, “We are developing not just one, but a few Star Wars series specifically for the Disney direct to consumer app. We’ve mentioned that and we are close to being able to reveal at least one of the entities that is developing that for us. Because the deal isn’t completely closed, we can’t be specific about that. I think you’ll find the level of talent on the television front will be rather significant as well.” This wink-filled announcement bodes well for the longtime dream of a live-action Star Wars show, which fans have been getting teased since the days of George Lucas’ reign over the franchise. If the annual release of Star Wars films in theaters and the commodification of the series represents the dark side of the Disney era, the unquestionable light side is the promise of a new series direct to the Disney platform.
Disney’s foray into the market of streaming services is a sign of the times as movie theaters continue their fade into irrelevance and consumers continue to sever ties with cable TV. The nature of the on-demand economy is maximum value for every dollar spent. Where Netflix is spending big to disrupt the film and TV business with more original content than the average consumer knows what to do with, Disney has 94 years of success serving families entertainment they want and keep coming back to.
While some have called Disney’s new venture nothing more than a cold capitalist calculation, it’s clear they see more than dollar signs in this moment of chaos in media. Disney sees themselves as the only sure thing in entertainment that gives audiences peace of mind and assurance of value in a marketplace clouded by doubt.
When a price tag is finally announced for the streaming service, I’ll be first in line to consider cutting the unpredictable Netflix buffet from my budget in favor of one helmed by Disney, who with few exceptions, always seems to get it right.
Stephen Kent (@Stephen_Kent89) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is the spokesperson for Young Voices and host of Beltway Banthas, a Star Wars & politics podcast in D.C.
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