Disney released a filmed performance of Hamilton on July 3 on streaming service Disney Plus.
Disney Plus, the entertainment giant’s online hub for streaming almost everything it produces, has been an unrivaled hit among the wave of new services that launched in the last year. Disney Plus streams shows and movies from Disney franchises, including Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, and all the family-friendly movies and animation from Disney itself. It also has new originals and programming it acquired by taking over Fox such as The Simpsons.
On Friday, it began streaming its most anticipated release since the coronavirus pandemic: A film version of the award-winning musical Hamilton, recorded as a live stage capture of the original Broadway cast. Coinciding with the Independence Day holiday weekend in the US, the Hamilton film is coming to stream more than a year earlier than its originally planned theatrical debut. Hamilton was meant to be released in theaters in October next year. Instead, Disney made it available to stream with a $7 monthly subscription last Friday.
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Hamilton gave Disney Plus a clear bump in interest. In the US, Disney Plus mobile-app downloads jumped 72% Friday through Sunday, and mobile app downloads climbed 47% elsewhere in the world. Those stats don’t reflect any app downloads on streaming-TV platforms like Roku, Apple Fire TV, Apple TV or others, which are typically where viewers watch streaming services like Disney Plus most.
A week after Hamilton’s release, Disney Plus is adding a special that interviews the cast, creators and a historian about the show.
It’s the latest twist to Disney Plus during the coronavirus pandemic. As the coronavirus has shuttered cinemas and forced families to entertain themselves almost completely at home, Disney has been tweaking Disney Plus’ role to bring them a string of surprise streaming releases at home, as its service takes on bigger and earlier involvement in its big-screen films’ releases.
At first, Disney Plus simply started streaming already-released movies months earlier than planned. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker began streaming three months early
on the May the Fourth fan day for Star Wars. Before that, Disney released animated hit Frozen 2 three months early as well, and Pixar’s Onward hit Disney Plus just weeks after it premiered in theaters.
Now Disney is ratcheting up the streaming releases of brand new movies too.
Hamilton’s accelerated streaming release follows Artemis Fowl, a sci-fi fantasy based on a popular series of young-adult books, which began streaming on Disney Plus in the middle of June. It was the first theatrical film that has been reimagined as a streaming exclusive to cope with coronavirus lockdowns. It had been scheduled to hit theaters May 29, but instead the company decided to release it as a Disney Plus original film.
And Disney Plus will soon be the home of Beyonce’s next visual album. On Sunday, Disney and Beyonce Knowles-Carter — who played Nala in Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King — said her musical film Black Is King would be released exclusively on Disney Plus on July 31. Based on last year’s “soundtrack” album The Gift, it’s a reimagining of the lessons of The Lion King “for today’s young kings and queens in search of their own crowns,” the company said.
The visual album “honors the voyages of Black families, throughout time … in a tale about a young king’s transcendent journey through betrayal, love and self-identity. His ancestors help guide him toward his destiny, and with his father’s teachings and guidance from his childhood love, he earns the virtues needed to reclaim his home and throne.”
Disney Plus is also plugging some of its upcoming movie availability dates on Fridays as “Summer Movie Nights.” That includes previously announced releases, like Hamilton coming this Friday, but it also includes some X-Men films arriving in the weeks and months to come — a benefit of Disney’s takeover of Fox. The streaming service will be getting 2000’s X-Men, which kicked off the franchise, as well as 2013’s The Wolverine, 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. (CNET has an article rounding up the major Disney Plus TV and film release dates.)
But don’t get your hopes up that new Marvel movies or the live-action Mulan will reach Disney Plus this year. Generally, Disney isn’t risking any of its mega-budget potential blockbusters with a streaming-only release yet. Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the company is evaluating each movie on a case by case basis and may need to modify its plans if theaters remain closed — or if theaters reopen too narrowly for a theatrical release to make enough money.
However, “we very much believe in the value of the theatrical experience overall to launch blockbuster movies,” he said.
Beyond theatrical releases, the coronavirus has disrupted Disney Plus’ production of new shows and movies as well. With filming shut down all over the world, it’ll grow trickier to keep Disney Plus stocked with new things to watch as lockdowns stretch on.
The Mandalorian, at least, is still on track. Chapek said in May that the second season of the service’s breakout series would premiere on Disney Plus as planned in October because filming was largely completed before the coronavirus seriously hit the US.
But the future of other highly anticipated Disney Plus programming remains unclear, such as its Marvel original shows. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to be the first of those to debut in August, but the company hasn’t directly addressed its release plans for any of the series.
Disney Plus series WandaVision was meant to debut on the service in December, but it reportedly needs to complete filming still: Actor Paul Bettany was supposed to appear at a convention in July, but he canceled the appearance because he’s due to resume filming WandaVision in Los Angeles at that time.
Unfortunately, the long delays to Marvel’s big-screen feature films complicate matters more. The plots of Marvel films and the new Marvel series are closely knit. So, for example, WandaVision is supposed to come out in December, and that was designed for Scarlet Witch’s storyline to flow right into the May 2021 big-screen release of Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness. But now, the Doctor Strange sequel has been pushed back nearly a year until March 2022. That raises questions about WandaVision’s timing.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker began streaming on Disney Plus three months early.
As the coronavirus pandemic persists, Disney Plus may take on other roles, too. It was already a massive bet on streaming as the future of home entertainment, taking on Netflix and an emerging crop of rivals like Peacock, Apple TV Plus and HBO Max — even unconventional short-form, mobile service Quibi. But the rollout of Disney Plus was one of last year’s biggest launches, with a media analyst calling it “one of the greatest product launches of all time.”
Disney Plus ramped up to 54.5 million subscribers as of early May. The company had initially predicted that Disney Plus would reach 60 million to 90 million subscribers after about five years. Instead, it reached spitting distance of that range just six months after launch.
Disney Plus’ solid footing — and the fact that it has become the de facto way Disney has been releasing new movies during coronavirus lockdown — spurred the company to remove its standard offer of seven-day free trials for new members in June. That move came about two weeks before the release of Hamilton.
In the US, Disney Plus costs $7 a month, or $70 if you prepay for a full year. (International prices are listed below.) The monthly rate is half the price of HBO Max. That price is also a discount compared with Netflix’s cheapest tier, at $9 a month.
So is Disney Plus worth paying for? All the details about Disney Plus are below, but basically: If you love Star Wars or Marvel movies or if you have kids, you may find yourself with yet another subscription.
Where is Disney Plus and when will it launch in new countries?
Disney Plus has launched in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, India, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, France and Japan.
The service is planned to launch in eight more European countries on Sept. 15. The new markets will be Portugal, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Globally, Disney plans a progressive rollout worldwide over two years. Elsewhere, Disney Plus is slated to roll out in:
Eastern Europe over the course of a year starting as early as summer 2020.Asia-Pacific over the course of the two years starting with Japan’s launch in June.
(Read: Disney Plus en español.)
The service first launched Nov. 12 in the US, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial launch of Disney Plus came less than two weeks after Apple TV Plus rolled out. Disney Plus arrived on Nov. 19 in Australia and New Zealand. Then on March 11, Disney Plus began rolling out unexpectedly early in India, as Disney rebranded its existing Hotstar streaming service there as Disney Plus Hotstar and added a wealth of new titles to stream. The company concluded the India launch in late March.
On March 24, Disney Plus launched across parts of Western Europe, including the UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Disney Plus originally planned to launch in France at the same time, but because European officials worried that internet traffic linked to the rollout could strain the country’s networks, Disney held back its French launch until April 7. When Disney originally launched in the US in November, demand to sign up and start using the service caused widespread crashes the first day, even though that launch came during much more routine patterns of bandwidth demand.
Pixar’s Onward became available to stream on Disney Plus on April 3.
In the UK and Ireland, Disney Plus replaces existing service Disney Life, but the switch isn’t automatic for Disney Life subscribers. If you were a Disney Life subscriber, make sure you sign up for Disney Plus. Disney Plus also agreed to launch on Comcast-backed pay-TV operator Sky via its Sky Q service and Now TV app in the UK and Ireland. In France, broadcaster Canal Plus will be the exclusive pay-TV distributor of Disney Plus, and its traditional networks aired the first episode of The Mandalorian on March 24 as part of a publicity push.
How much does it cost?
In the US, the Disney Plus service costs $7 a month, or $70 a year.
In Canada, Disney Plus is priced at C$9 a month, or C$90 per year. In countries that are part of the euro zone, it is 7 euros, or 70 euros a year. In the UK, it is £6 a month, or £60 a year. In Australia, it’s priced at AU$9 a month, or AU$90 per year, while New Zealand subscribers pay NZ$10 per month, or NZ$100 per year. In India, Disney Plus Hotstar is priced at 299 Indian rupees a month, or 999 rupees a year. In Japan, Disney Plus is 700 yen a month through an exclusive partnership with Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo.
In Norway, Disney Plus will cost 69 Norwegian kroner monthly or 689 kroner annually. In Sweden, it will be 69 Swedish kronor a month or 689 kronor a year. And in Denmark, it will be 59 Danish kroner a month, or 589 kroner a year.
The US price undercuts the $13 monthly fee for Netflix’s most popular plan in the US, which lets you stream to two different devices simultaneously in high definition. Disney Plus, however, allows all subscribers to stream to four devices and access 4K content at no extra cost — features Netflix includes in its $16 premium tier.
Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine M. McCarthy hinted Disney Plus pricing may rise as the service advances, calling the $7-a-month fee an “initial” price.
The company also bundles Disney Plus with Hulu (with ads) and ESPN Plus, offering a $5 discount if you subscribe to all three of its streaming options. At $13, that costs the same as Netflix’s most popular plan in the US.
Way back in 2017, Disney then-CEO Bob Iger noted that the price would reflect the “fact that it will have substantially less volume” than prime competitor Netflix. As the months and years pass, Disney will accumulate a bigger catalog of exclusives and originals on Disney Plus. As that happens, it’s a good bet the company will start pushing its price higher.
There are also deals to get Disney Plus free.
In October, Disney and Verizon announced a deal that gives a free year of Disney Plus starting on launch day to all of the carrier’s customers with a 4G LTE or 5G unlimited account, as well as new customers of Verizon’s Fios and 5G home internet services. Those who prepurchased a Disney Plus plan such as the now-expired three-year discounted subscription deal can stack their one free year on top of it, according to a Verizon FAQ.
How does Disney Plus compare with competitors and fit in with Disney’s other streaming services, like Hulu?
Disney Plus is a competitor to video streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Now and Apple TV Plus. It’s a paid subscription without any advertising, and it gives customers access to a vast library of Disney’s and Fox’s legacy content as well as new, exclusive TV shows, movies, documentaries and shorts.
Disney’s other streaming services — Hulu and sports-focused ESPN Plus — run on the same tech platform. Disney plans for all three to be individual subscriptions, but it’s offering a triple-service bundle for $13 a month.
Disney Plus includes all of Disney’s family-friendly content and much of its mass-audience fare — basically, anything made for audiences up to a PG-13 rating. It has content from Disney proper, Marvel, Lucasfilm (so, Star Wars), Pixar and National Geographic. And outside those traditional categories it also offers all 30 seasons of The Simpsons, a feather in its cap from the Fox takeover.
Hulu, on the other hand, is where Disney streams more adult-oriented material. For example, two series originally planned for Disney Plus — High Fidelity and Love, Victor — were moved over to Hulu instead because of their more mature themes.
Hulu is now the official streaming home for FX networks. (FX became part of Disney after Disney bought Fox for $71.3 billion.) FX on Hulu will include all seasons of more than 40 FX series and will offer episodes of current and new FX series immediately after they air on the traditional network. Plus, FX will produce original series exclusively for “FX on Hulu.”
For now Hulu will continue to stream content from three of the broadcast networks, as well as its own original series, like The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock.
And Disney now has full control over Hulu’s direction. Hulu was jointly owned by four parent companies as recently for years. But a year ago, Disney said it’d buy the rest of Hulu it didn’t already own. That gave Disney the flexibility to offer its bundle discount.
How can I stream it?
Disney has wide device support, streaming to phones, tablets, computers, connected TVs and streaming media boxes. The company has global distribution agreements in place with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku, Sony, Amazon, Samsung and LG. That encompasses the makers of:
Executives have said that they intend for Disney Plus to be supported by all major devices that stream video.
What product features does the service include?
Disney Plus can stream 4K Ultra HD content in Dolby Vision, HDR10 and Dolby Atmos immersive audio. You can see a title’s available formats in any of the Disney Plus apps by clicking to that show or movie’s main page and then clicking on the “details” tab. The app for streaming boxes, like Roku and Apple TV, is also designed to briefly flash a symbol telling you the format that you’re watching; it appears in the upper right corner of the screen for a few seconds when a video begins to play.
Every Disney Plus account can stream to four devices simultaneously and can create seven user profiles for different members of the household. Each account can pick an avatar of a Disney, Pixar, Marvel or Star Wars characters, with more than 200 avatars available.
Disney Plus also offers unlimited mobile downloads for offline viewing. Subscribers can download to up to 10 mobile or tablet devices, with no constraints on the number of times a title can be downloaded. The number of titles stored at one time on a device depends on how much storage space is available on the device.
The service is supposed to support English, Spanish, French and Dutch at launch, including both user interface as well as audio support and subtitles for library content, with additional languages available for Disney Plus originals.
The app also supports closed captioning, descriptive audio and navigation assistance to help subscribers with disabilities.
What shows and movies can I watch? And when are originals from Marvel coming?
Disney Plus is designed to be the exclusive home to stream theatrical films, shows and shorts from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney’s own studio and National Geographic. It also has exclusive series and films, some of which are based on those blockbuster franchises and others that are original. And Disney Plus also integrates programming from Fox. All 30 seasons of The Simpsons are on Disney Plus, and titles like The Sound of Music, The Princess Bride and Malcolm in the Middle are being added in the first year. (Disney has also said it’ll mine the Fox catalog for reboots, too, “reimagining” past Fox franchises “for a new generation” — a possible reboot of Home Alone is in the works, for example.)
Disney Plus houses the entire film libraries of Pixar, Star Wars and its Signature Series and Disney Vault lines of classic hand-drawn animated movies.
Because of previous licensing deals, it will be a long time before Disney Plus is an exhaustive library of all Disney movies. CNET has a comprehensive list of the major shows and movies still coming to Disney Plus. But starting with 2019’s releases, all of Disney’s theatrical films will stream exclusively on Disney Plus.
Then there is the big slate of original, exclusive shows and movies for the service.
Major originals include The Mandalorian, a big-budget series starring Pedro Pascal about a bounty-hunting gunfighter that takes place five years after the events in The Return of the Jedi. It’s the service’s marquee original series with viral sensation Baby Yoda, and it became a pop culture phenom. Disney is investing heavily in The Mandalorian. The show’s budget reportedly approached $15 million per episode in the first season. By comparison, Game of Thrones didn’t hit that kind of spending until its final season.
Another live-action Star Wars series, a prequel to Rogue One, was set to start shooting this year before coronavirus closures started disruption shooting schedules. It’ll star Diego Luna, who played Cassian Andor in the original movie.
And Disney has seven live-action Marvel series planned featuring the stars of its blockbuster Avengers movies.
Is Disney Plus one of the biggest launches of all time?…
The first wave was supposed to be released out as follows (before coronavirus upended schedules): The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in August; WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in December; a Loki series featuring Tom Hiddleston in spring 2021; and a Hawkeye series in fall 2021, starring Jeremy Renner and featuring Kate Bishop, who in the comics becomes a second Hawkeye. Again, those dates were planned prior to coronavirus disruptions.
In August, the company unveiled plans for three more shows, based on characters Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and Moon Knight. In the comics, Ms. Marvel, or Kamala Khan, is a teen protege of Captain Marvel’s Carol Danvers and is Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book. The Ms. Marvel series was originally confirmed for 2021 release. She-Hulk, or Jennifer Walters, is the cousin of Bruce Banner, whose superhuman powers transferred to her when she received a transfusion of Banner’s blood. (Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo is in talks to appear in the series.) The character Moon Knight, or Marc Spector, is a former mercenary and CIA agent who has multiple personalities and is imbued with powers from an Egyptian god.
At Comic Con in July, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige detailed how the studio’s Disney Plus shows are designed to be essential viewing for Marvel fans. The characters and narratives of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be knitted together between theatrical movies and original series on Disney Plus.
Benedict Cumberbatch, for example, will be joined by Scarlet Witch actress Elizabeth Olsen in the theatrical sequel Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness — but to understand how Olsen’s character arrived at the events on the big screen, you’ll need to watch the Disney Plus original WandaVision.
On the flip side, Avengers: End Game contains a clue to how Loki returns from his death to appear in the Disney Plus original Loki.
Disney Plus also plans a gamut of original documentaries, reality shows, competition series, behind-the-scenes features, nature and adventure titles, animated programming — the list goes on. It may also be the place Disney debuts live-action short films made via its Launchpad incubator program designed to elevate opportunities for filmmakers from underrepresented groups.
Disney Plus is even starting to stream two-dimensional versions of Disney’s virtual-reality shorts.
Read more: Best universal remote for 2020
How will this affect Disney stuff on Netflix?
Disney is mostly disappearing from Netflix over the course of 2020 (with a caveat).
Since 2016, Netflix has been the first place to watch Disney’s movies with a subscription. That deal meant Netflix was the go-to place for the biggest US blockbusters of the last three years. The top two movies of 2017 and the top three movies of 2016 and 2018 were all from Disney, and Netflix has been the place to binge them all.
But Disney decided against renewing that Netflix deal as it plotted its own competitor. Starting with Disney’s 2019 slate of movies, all those films are destined for Disney Plus. That means Captain Marvel, the first movie Disney released theatrically in 2019, is the first movie on Disney Plus instead of Netflix. It also means that Mary Poppins Returns should be the final Disney movie that has a release window on Netflix.
But licensing is complicated, and one report indicates Disney will return those movies to Netflix — and remove them from Disney Plus — temporarily starting in 2026. It affects movies released between January 2016 and December 2018, which includes Marvel titles like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War; Star Wars hits like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Last Jedi; and Pixar staples like Finding Dory, Coco and The Incredibles 2. It also touches family favorites like Moana and the live action Beauty and the Beast.
One consideration: Disney Plus won’t lose these titles until six years after the service launches. At that point, Disney Plus will have built a large permanent library of original content, and it will continue to funnel all its newest releases to Disney Plus and nowhere else. Presumably, that will take some of the sting out of losing these films for a limited time.
Netflix’s Marvel Defenders shows are complicated too. Netflix has put out five original series based on Defenders characters in partnership with Disney. In 2018, Netflix canceled three of them: Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Then in 2019, Netflix canceled the last two: The Punisher and Jessica Jones. A top executive (who has since left Disney to lead TikTok) said Disney Plus could possibly revive the canceled shows. But the terms of their original deal could restrict Disney Plus from any revivals until 2020, according to a report.
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