I remember when I watched the Disney Channel for the first time. I know because I remember when cable TV said they were going to be releasing the Disney Channel shortly. My parents didn’t really want cable, but they figured with the Disney Channel they could get some value for a pay service cable station. It was about three months before they were going to release the Channel. And as good salesmen do, they sold my parents on trying out some other pay family channel and regular cable until the Disney Channel went live. For the next three months, we were counting down the days until it would come.
Then the day came . . . and we waited. And waited. And we waited some more. It got to be 5 o’clock and they still weren’t giving us the station. We knew it was there because you could see the scrambled pictures on your TV back then when you didn’t get the channel. So we marched as a family into the cable company building. We demanded that they turn it on now. They swore it would be on when we got home.
Which of course meant we were mad when we got home and nothing had changed on the television. So a half an hour went by with us staring at the scratchy pictures on the television set and hearing the scratchy rugged voice of Jeff Bridges in the movie Tron over the boob tube. I was just about to give up when the movie popped up on the screen. They covered the screen in blue and red hues making the characters almost black and white in this world. It was like entering into a world unimaginable to me on my own.
Little did I know the world I would be entering over the next several years. In those days Disney was primarily about Disney movies and cartoons, some movie classics, and some minor Disney programming. I remember watching classic Disney fare like Treasure Island, Follow Me Boys, and the Gnome Mobile. While they threw in the occasional original program, they were few and far between. And even when they did, it often turned out to be a mini series like Five Mile Creek or Return to Treasure Island.
And then they started in with the Mickey Mouse Club. In and of itself, the Mickey Mouse club did not depart vastly from what they were trying to do. They already had done the old Mickey Mouse Club on there. And they had some original programming like Welcome to Pooh Corner or Mousterpiece Theater. But those hearkened back to classic programming. They were nostalgia for all things Disney in a very different way. With the new Mickey Mouse Club, they were trying to rebrand old Disney material and do something new with it. They were in the process of creating something entirely different.
Things rapidly changed from there. They started up shows like the Famous Jett Jackson, Even Stevens, and Lizzie McGuire. Original programming replaced the movies and classic television shows, limiting them to specific nights of the week. And eventually, they would push out the classic films altogether.
This disappointed me for many reasons. I loved having all of those classic Disney films to watch I felt they cast aside for sitcoms on television. They were dime a dozen sitcoms, and I didn’t feel like they were particularly engaging. I admit I have come around on some of these shows as I would eventually have a daughter, and she loves them. They are her Disney Channel experience. And sure, they created a Disney Family Movie Channel . . . eventually. But how many of the old classic Disney movies were put back in the vault to fade into obscurity in favor of newer Disney movies like Honey I Blew Up The Kid?
Whether this was done because they were not drawing enough of an audience to their regular pay cable station or not, I cannot say. But they noticeably cast aside their former format and stopped charging their viewers. They became part of the great bundle and figured to make money off of advertising. And so commercials entered the Disney pantheon.
I get that television stations need to make a profit. I can recognize this more than most given the nature of the entertainment landscape as it looks today. With the advent of streaming content, it has become more and more difficult for channels to make money. And as people have gone to cutting the cord (or even the satellite dish), the methods for making a profit on entertainment change. Hulu began differently, adding minor commercials to its programming if you wished to watch. But with other non-commercial services like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu couldn’t last like that for long. It bent to the pressure of the marketplace. And it began offering commercial free fare.
Soon, more and more services allowed you to pay for them directly. HBO added the NOW service to its already popular GO service. NOW would allow people to get the channel directly with loads of on demand services as well as the ability to watch the station itself. Showtime did the same thing, followed by Starz. This movement made it clear that before long, everything would be offered piecemeal, and commercial free.
So when Disney announced recently the departing of ways from Netflix and the migration of all of its catalog onto the internet I wasn’t surprised. But then I got to thinking. What should this streaming service look like? Would I want to go backward to the Disney Channel of the past, or would I model it off the Disney Channel of the now? Or would I have an entirely third way of dealing with all of this content online? What would my Disney streaming service look like?
So I started to create a list of things that I would make sure to put onto my Disney Streaming Service. And I am going to share that here with you. And maybe Disney will listen. Although I am guessing some minor blip from a blogger wouldn’t make that much of an impact. But with enough people, you can accomplish anything.
10 Suggestions For The Disney Streaming Service
1) Avoid Commercials –
I know the Hulu service model might tempt you. But Hulu had to recognize after a time that putting commercials into its programming made audiences want to stay away unless desperation set in. (I did get desperate enough once when I read a rumor that Hulu would add Smallville to its programming.) If you want to compete in this new marketplace, commercials will hinder your endeavor.
2) Don’t Overprice Your Product –
This may seem obvious but be self-conscious about how you price your product. You are one major studio. Not 10. Which means you are limited to things that exist in your vault. As much as I will be disappointed to not get classic movies offered in its streaming service, there is still a ton that Disney has to offer. So consider the marketplace out there. There will be tons of families like mine who will be interested solely on the basis of the Disney name affixed to the service. This should net you many subscribers right away. But if you push the threshold like some services on cable television which will remain nameless, you will stunt your growth as a service.
3) Don’t Forget Classic Disney Pieces –
I remember the day that Disney re-upped with Netflix streaming services and I saw the Reluctant Dragon and Mickey and the Beanstalk appear as options to watch. I was so happy I gleefully ran screaming to my ex that they were there. Our daughter could watch those pieces. She would not be deprived of the classic Disney productions of my Disney Channel experience as a youth. And while I don’t mean to have you leave Snow White on the service for months at a time, I do think rotating some of these classic pieces in and out benefits you greatly.
4) Do Not Over Rely On Modern Disney Fair –
Maybe this makes me an old fogie. But I think you should try to seek balance in the lineup of things you try to do with the streaming service. People pay for things which they do not already have. They will not be paying for things that are already available to them. With 98 million people already having access to the Disney Channel, including Andi Mack (And I like Andi Mack so this is not a criticism of the show.) and other current Disney Channel programming will not move your subscriber needle. You have to be different.
5) Don’t Rotate Content Too Quickly –
As a streaming service and a company, I imagine you will be rotating through content from time to time. It’s totally ok. No one would be foolish to expect the Lion King to be on the service for a whole year before being pulled. One of the beautiful things about the original Disney Channel came from them playing the same movies ten times during a month. This way you did not miss it. Make sure your audience has a chance to watch something for a significant enough time before pulling the plug on the program. This will mean advertising to let people know about your showings. You might even create a Disney Streaming service magazine with articles and fun extra tidbits to make sure your audience was aware of your showings and when to watch them.
6) Do Not Be Netflix –
Yes, you are competing for the same subscriber dollars most likely. But being Netflix doesn’t net you anything. They are moving to create their own content on their streaming service. It’s their own version of becoming a studio. While nothing is wrong with this, you are already a studio. You create a ton of content. If you try to create even more content (unless you are simultaneously moving out of cable television altogether.), people’s eyes may glaze over, and you will look more like a business out to make a buck and not the highly regarded studio that you are. Between your vast array of studios and subsidiaries, you will not need to create even more original programming. Unless . . .
7) Consider Creating More Adult Programming –
This does not mean paying Jennifer Lawrence to do a nude scene in some special movie for this new service. What I mean by creating adult programming is most of your programming aim at kids. Disney Channel aims at the 9 to 16-year-old dollar. Disney Jr. aims at the 2 to 8-year-old dollar. And Disney XD tries to aim at the boy dollar as Disney Channel frequently aims at the female audience. If Disney considers itself to be family oriented, aim at the entire family. I would love to see something like the host on Turner Classic Movies talk about the creation of these classic Disney pieces. By adding some commentary you can still play these films with kids, it will just raise the target audience of these pieces creating the diversification of content for your audience.
8) Encourage Audience Engagement –
Also another one of those duh dad moments of my life I am sure. But truthfully, just not being Netflix will not be enough to make this a worth while endeavor. Find more ways about being interactive with the streaming audience. I remember when Blu-Ray came out and they discussed all of these real time games you could play while watching your Blu Ray. It sounded exciting. The problem came when you considered whether anyone would be watching something the exact same time you would be. The fact that you will not have limitless content on the streaming service will increase the likelihood of people watching something at the same time. You could even encourage them to do so and do something while they watch that encourages participation. Your options with this service are boundless. Put your Imagineers to work thinking about it.
9) Be Disney –
I realize that Disney means different things to different people. So my version of Disney vastly differs from someone else’s version. For me, this means being true to your family branding. I did say diversify into adult fare which means that I am all for expanding the brand. You cannot do anything about those people who have heart palpitations because they heard a curse word on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. They are a lost cause. But you are still Disney. You don’t need to be anyone else.
10) Keep Moving Forward –
I remember watching the end of the movie Meet The Robinsons (a vastly underrated Disney piece). The main character kept being told to keep moving forward. Of course, I will not spoil the surprise in that movie. The statement’s beauty comes from its ability to free you up from failure. There will be successes and failures along life’s journey. But you keep striving for more. As a company, do not rest on your laurels after creating the platform. Keep moving forward with bigger and better ideas for expanding this new streaming medium. But of course, I shouldn’t be reminding you of this quote. Because you are Disney. And that quote, as you very well know, is from Walter Elias Disney himself. It gave me chills when I saw it at the end of Robinsons.
Continue The Conversation –
So what do you think of the upcoming Disney Streaming service? I know that it will not happen until 2019, which leaves us two years to think and discuss it. What things would you be interested in seeing? What kinds of things do you think they should avoid? And what would you include in your package for streaming content? I would love to hear your thoughts.
If you liked this post, please like this post at the end. And check out some of my other Disney posts on the Guide. Debate the top ten Disney Princes if you wish. Also, do not forget to follow me here at the Guide. Email subscribers will get access to the Dad Rules. These are ten rules that every Dad should know about and follow. Thank you for stopping by once again.
Until next time, don’t forget to “Keep Moving Forward.”
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life