For Apple and Disney+, getting people to sign up is not the hard part
At long last, Walt Disney launched its video-streaming platform, Disney+, last Tuesday. Ten million people signed up in the first 24 hours, a stunning feat considering the deluge of rivals flooding the market. By comparison, it took HBO Now about four years to reach that milestone.
The rapid adoption is a testament not just to the power of Disney's brand but also to a business strategy that stands in stark contrast to this month's other big streaming debut, Apple's TV+.
Disney sold a $7-a-month service using a colossal back catalog of content and a single episode of a new buzzy series based on a well-known franchise, Star Wars. Apple was forced to bet big on a slate of expensive — and so far, not widely acclaimed — original movies and TV shows.
Disney+ got off to a rocky start with streaming glitches, but the outages ultimately stemmed from a good problem: overwhelming demand. More people streamed Disney+ from a phone or tablet on launch day than watched Amazon.com's Prime Video, which had a 13-year head start.
The popularity of Disney+ is driven in large part by an explosion of nostalgic offerings. Titles like Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty were often expensive and hard to find unless you hung onto a VCR. Disney has invested in originals, too, but I found myself glued to the library of classics. I have not even got around to watching the new Star Wars offshoot, the Mandalorian.
Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger has been touting this "rich in brands" approach.
"There are 30 seasons of The Simpsons there," he told Bloomberg Businessweek in a recent interview. The big test will be whether the service can grow its catalog of originals fast enough to keep customers interested after the nostalgic novelty wears off.
Apple TV+, on the other hand, feels empty after just a couple of weeks. There is not much opportunity to binge-watch because, well, there is simply not enough content to binge.
The Morning Show, its flagship series starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, seems to be improving as the first season progresses, but with only one new episode per week, some critics are already questioning whether the $5-a-month price tag is worth it.
Every company has faced this question, Amazon and Netflix included, but they all had plenty of licensed content from other studios to lean on.
Apple appears to grasp the need to find ways to keep subscribers paying: Bloomberg reported last week that the company is exploring a mega subscription bundle of music, news and TV for as soon as next year.
Such a bundle may make subscribers less likely to cancel when there IS a drought of new shows as long as they can fill the time with their favorite albums and magazines.
But for now, my seven-day trial to Apple TV+ is already up. I received my first email receipt, incidentally, while watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Disney+. As the streaming wars play out, the metric that may be most indicative of success will not be how many people sign up but rather how many cancel.