Disney has called it the future of the company, and after years of preparation, it’s here: Disney Plus. It’s the entertainment giant’s streaming service for almost everything it creates, taking on Netflix as well as an emerging crop of rivals that includes Apple TV Plus and HBO Max.
Disney Plus officially launched early Tuesday in the US, Canada and the Netherlands. (Next up is the Nov. 19 launch in Australia and New Zealand.) As eager new subscribers tried to sign up for the service and stream Tuesday morning, complaints spread about glitches and service outages. The disruptions appeared to decline as the day went on.
Disney Plus is designed as the exclusive home to stream theatrical blockbusters from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and Disney’s own studios. Disney also is ramping up a slate of original shows and movies based on those brands and others. Most anticipated among them is big-budget Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian. (With Disney Plus’ library reaching nearly 500 films and 7,500 episodes of television, CNET has an article highlighting Disney Plus titles included in the streaming service.)
Much of Disney Plus’ original programming leans into the company’s big-budget franchises. Its Marvel original shows, for example, are going to be closely knit into the storylines that play out on the big screen in theaters. Even though Disney Plus is the company’s answer to Netflix, it won’t release episodes of its original series all at once like its giant rival does. New episodes will come out weekly.
Disney Plus costs $7 a month in the US, or $70 (about $5.83 a month) if you prepay for a full year. That monthly rate is half the price of HBO Now and the forthcoming HBO Max. It’s also a discount compared with Netflix’s cheapest tier at $9 a month. But Disney Plus includes perks that Netflix charges extra for — like four simultaneous streams, 4K Ultra HD in Dolby Vision, HDR10 and Dolby Atmos immersive audio. That puts Disney’s $7-a-month subscription in closer comparison with Netflix’s $16-a-month tier.
Disney also made a deal with Verizon to give the carrier’s unlimited wireless customers a free year of Disney Plus.
So is Disney Plus worth paying for? The details that we know so far are below, but basically: If you love Star Wars or Marvel movies or if you have kids, you may find yourself considering yet another subscription.
What’s the Disney Plus streaming service?
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, so new members can subscribe to them with the same password and credit card info. 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’ll have content from Disney proper, Marvel, Lucasfilm (so, Star Wars), Pixar and National Geographic. And outside those traditional categories it’ll also offer all 30 seasons of The Simpsons, a new feather in its cap from the Fox takeover.
Hulu, on the other hand, is where Disney streams more adult-oriented material. For example, Hulu will stream a new Marvel animated series for grown-ups. 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.
Beginning in March, Hulu will become the official streaming home for FX networks. (FX became part of Disney when the company 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. And FX will produce original series exclusively for FX on Hulu, starting with four new series next year: Devs; Mrs. America, starring Cate Blanchett; A Teacher, starring Kate Mara; and The Old Man, starring Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow.
And Disney now has full control over Hulu’s direction. Hulu was jointly owned by four parent companies as recently as March. But in May, Disney said it’d buy the rest of Hulu it didn’t already own. That gives Disney the flexibility to offer its bundle discount.
When’s the release date?
Disney Plus launched Tuesday in the US, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial launch of Disney Plus comes less than two weeks after Apple TV Plus rolled out.
After the American, Canadian and Dutch launch, Disney Plus will arrive a week later, on Nov. 19, in Australia and New Zealand.
On March 31, it will launch across Western Europe, including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and a number of other countries in the region.
In advance of the official launch, Disney has been offering Disney Plus free in the Netherlands for anyone to try. It’ll switch to requiring a subscription on Tuesday.
Globally, Disney plans a progressive rollout worldwide over the next two years. The company provided a generalized timeline for when it’ll expand the service to the world’s major regions.
Disney Plus is slated to roll out in:
- Eastern Europe over the course of a year starting as early as October 2020.
- Latin America over the course of three months starting as early as October 2020.
- Asia Pacific over the course of two years starting anytime.
(Read: Disney Plus en español.)
Kevin Mayer, the Disney executive in charge of the division launching Disney Plus, declined to specify any other international launch dates in August. But he told a group of international press that he believes people “will be happy” with how quickly Disney rolls out the service to international markets.
How much does it cost?
In the US, Disney said the service costs $7 a month, or $70 a year.
Its 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 said it’ll bundle 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, 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.
But the company has also started carving deals to get the service in the hands of more people without making them open their wallets.
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.
In advance of launching, Disney offered a series of discounts. The very first people given the chance to preregister for Disney Plus were attendees of its D23 Expo, Disney’s biennial fan convention in Anaheim, California, in August. The “Founders Circle” offer priced a three-year subscription at $140.97 total, or the equivalent of $3.92 a month. The offer was only available to US residents, and it ended on Labor Day.
Later, the company offered another preorder discount to its Disney faithful: Disney Parks annual passholders qualified for discounts on two- or three-year subscriptions. A three-year subscription dropped $40, to $170, and a two-year subscription fell $20, to $120. And then it offered another, similar discount. The deal, which is also for a $170 three-year subscription, was marketed for Disney Movie Insiders members, but it seemed anyone could sign up.
In Canada, Disney Plus is priced at CA$9 a month, or CA$90 per year. In the Netherlands, it’ll be 7 euros a month, or €70 per year. In Australia, it’ll be priced at AU$9 a month, or AU$90 per year. And New Zealand subscribers will pay NZ$10 per month, or NZ$100 per year.
How can I stream it?
Disney promised wide device support, saying Disney Plus supports streaming to phones, tablets, computers, connected TVs and streaming media boxes. At its big unveiling in April, Disney specifically called out support for Roku TVs and the Playstation 4. In August, the company said it also had global distribution agreements in place with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku and Sony. Then less a week before launch, Disney expanded that to Amazon, Samsung and LG. That encompasses the makers of:
During the investor presentation in April, slides included photos of Amazon Fire TV, but the company hasn’t specifically confirmed Amazon‘s devices or whether Disney Plus will be an option on Amazon Channels. But 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, but it hasn’t specified which titles or how many titles. 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 over 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.
Shows and movies: What can I watch?
CNET has a comprehensive list of the shows and movies expected on Disney Plus.
Because Disney Plus is already up and running free in the Netherlands, sites like Just Watch have made the service’s catalog easy to search. However, because of the complexity of global licensing, titles available in the Netherlands may not be available in the US or other markets.
In October, Disney Plus’ social accounts went on a bender showing off “basically everything coming to Disney Plus.” An epic Twitter thread claimed to include every show and movie that would be available at launch, a three-hour-plus “trailer” on YouTube showed mini-clips of almost all those titles.
But the catalog remains in flux. Less than one week before launch, for example, Disney moved up the availability date of Avengers: Endgame. Instead of coming to Disney Plus on Dec. 11, the movie was available to stream at launch. Within hours of launching, Disney added another eight Marvel titles.
Generally, Disney Plus includes content from the Disney brand itself, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and National Geographic. It’ll also integrate programming from Fox — all 30 seasons of The Simpsons will be on Disney Plus starting on day one, and more titles, like The Sound of Music, The Princess Bride and Malcolm in the Middle, will join it in the first year. In August, Disney said that it’ll go further than that, “reimagining” past Fox franchises “for a new generation.” Iger indicated a reboot of Home Alone is in the works, for one.
Disney Plus is designed to be the only place you can stream all of Disney’s theatrically released movies, starting with Captain Marvel at launch and the rest of its 2019 slate later on. Frozen 2, for example, will be streamable on the service next summer after its theatrical release in November. Disney Plus will also house the entire film libraries of Pixar, Star Wars and its Signature Series and Disney Vault lines of classic hand-drawn animated movies. (Think Bambi, The Lion King, Snow White and so on.)
And of course, the company is developing a 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. Disney is investing heavily in The Mandalorian. Its budget reportedly approached $15 million per episode. By comparison, Game of Thrones didn’t hit that kind of spending until its final season. Executive producer Jon Favreau is already writing The Mandalorian’s second season.
A Star Wars prequel series based on Rogue One will star Diego Luna, who played Cassian Andor in the original movie.
And Disney has seven live-action series featuring the stars of its blockbuster Avengers movies in their own shows.
The first wave includes: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in fall 2020; a Loki series featuring Tom Hiddleston in spring 2021; WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen in her role of Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany reprising The Vision 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.
Then in August, the company unveiled three more, based on characters She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel and Moon Knight. In the comics, 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. 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 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 May 2021’s 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, slated to come out around the same time.
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, set for spring 2021 too.
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 premieres live-action short films that it’s creating in its Launchpad incubator program designed to elevate opportunities for filmmakers from underrepresented groups.
Even though all of Disney’s movies will stream exclusively on Disney Plus, the company doesn’t plan to debut any of its big-budget motion pictures on the service. That’s what’s known as a day-and-date approach, to release titles on the big screen and on a streaming service at the same time. It was Netflix’s strategy for years. Disney, however, plans for all its theatrical films like Star Wars and Marvel to run their course in theaters and home video before making them available with a digital subscription.
How will this affect Disney stuff on Netflix?
Disney will mostly disappear from Netflix by late 2019 (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 some type of 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. Kevin Mayer, the Disney executive in charge of Disney Plus, has 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.
With the third, and now final, season of Jessica Jones having hit Netflix in June, all we know about the future of these characters is Marvel Television chief Jeph Loeb teasing fans that the characters will continue in some form.
What shows and movies do you want to appear on Disney’s streaming service? Pop them into the comments section and we’ll keep updating this post with more information as it becomes available.
Originally published Aug. 27, 2018, and updated as new information is revealed.