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27th February 2021

Disney+ Star – more content, but at what cost?

With hundreds more films and TV shows added to the site, has Disney Plus finally claimed top spot amidst the ‘Streaming Wars’?
Disney+ Star – more content, but at what cost?
Photo: StockSnap @ pixabay

Disney Plus is scheduling its ‘biggest content drop ever’ later this month. There is ample reason to be excited about it. ‘Star’ will be a new section on the studio’s streaming service, widely targeted at a more adult audience. After the purchase of 20th Century Fox, Disney is seeking to capitalise on its newly won content in this highly lucrative move.

From the 23rd of February 2021, viewers on Disney Plus will be able to stream popular content such as Lost, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They can also dive into new shows curated under the Disney Studio banner.

Interest has peaked for a lot of fans of the site. However, there is an air of scepticism around the media giant throwing its net out wider than ever before.

The range of familiar content arriving on ‘Star’ is seriously vast. To list a couple: American Dad, Atlanta, Black-ish, Bones, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy, Firefly, Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, Prison Break, Scrubs, Sons of Anarchy, The X Files, and many more.

It appears Disney have been especially vigilant to entertain all members of the family. They have spanned multiple genres and styles. With a heavy emphasis on the ‘Golden Age of Television’ of the early 2000s, the numerous shows appear ready to satiate anyone craving a lockdown binge.

Besides TV, ‘Star’ will branch out further. The streaming service’s previously limited film selection will host some classics and off-beat gems. To gather the sense of the variety of films ‘Star’ will bring, your Saturday evening might possibly start with Elizabeth Burton’s three-hour epic Cleopatra, and end with a late night showing of Borat.

This seems like a surly blow for Disney Plus’s biggest competitor Netflix. The latter’s own assortment of films has been known to focus more on quantity than quality.

If that was not enough, this update will also bring about a collection of original releases from the studio. From the creator of Big Little Lies, there’s the crime drama Big Sky, as well as the new horror mystery Helstrom. Justin Roiland’s new show Solar Opposites seeks to carry on the momentum of Rick and Morty. And the new series Love, Victor follows the 2017 LGBTQ+ film Love, Simon.

Disney Star is certainly a major positive for consumers. However, there are many concerns about it growing monopoly over the commercial streaming market. When it launched in 2007, Netflix’s greatest appeal was that there was a wide variety of content all in one place. They were often unavailable without DVDs, Video or getting lucky on one of those late night channel surfs. This opposed to terrestrial television, where you had to pay extra to unlock content on channels like Sky Atlantic or Disney XD. 

With the seeming decline of Netflix, and the diversification of the streaming market, there is a growing worry that Disney’s ever-increasing dominance will push smaller, independent streamers out of competition. This risks the return to the days of the ‘big six’ studio system.

Worrisome for consumers, Disney now not only has a dominance over theatrical releases, but also home streaming. With so much content under the control of one corporate entity, it is a real concern. Independent, avant-garde and arthouse films, as well as pioneering TV shows, will be watered down in order to fit the Disney brand. 

As Scorsese noted in a recent essay on acclaimed Italian director Federico Fellini, ‘cinema’ has been increasingly replaced by ‘content’. This has led to more experimental projects materialising. It’s hard to imagine The Irishman ever finding financial success with a traditional studio release strategy. However, it has also led to more studio-interference. This is in a bid to make every piece of content as commercially viable as possible. The ever evolving ‘consumer content’ has led to a focus on creating a successful brand, rather than art. 

Disney is notorious for interfering with projects to make them as controversy-free as possible. Take, for example, Edgar Wright’s canned Ant-Man project. Also, the notable shift in vision following the still-controversial release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It is concerning that a company with an established brand will own such a huge percentage of the market. Indeed, in 2019, Disney accounted for 38% of all box office revenue, and with streaming more important than ever in the age of Covid-19, its monopoly on the market will only continue to grow. Possibly to both the detriment and advantage of consumers.

Regardless of the worrying commercial ramifications, Disney Plus Star is still a huge win for consumers. Particularly in the UK, as films and TV shows previously unavailable will have one permanent place for subscribers to binge. 

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