Netflix’s move to may have grabbed headlines, but the real news was Disney’s decision to pull its films from the streaming service as it looks to launch a US rival.
The deal to buy Glasgow-based Millarworld marked Netflix’s first company acquisition in its 20-year history and aped Disney’s 2009 move to buy Marvel, home to the Avengers and thousands of comic-book characters including Iron Man and Captain America. Disney has turned Marvel into a superhero hit machine and by owning a stable of characters and franchises of its own, is aiming to cut the almost $16bn it has committed over the next five years to mostly paying producers for films and TV shows.
While the move makes strategic sense, Netflix will have its work cut out, as two of the Millarworld books to have made it to the big screen, Kick-Ass and Kingsman, which have grossed almost $600m at the box office, are not part of the deal. Instead, the company will have to look to , about a dysfunctional superhero family, a gifted petrol station worker called Huck, and Duke McQueen, a space hero who may be a little past his prime.
A day after Netflix announced its Disney-like move, by announcing it intends to launch a streaming service in the US in 2019. Disney is pulling its films from Netflix to make sure its family-focused service will be the only place to catch the Toy Story films, the sequel to Frozen and The Lion King. The company has not decided whether to include Marvel or Lucasfilm, the company behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones, in the new service or to give them their own digital homes.
Netflix’s investors took fright at the move by Disney, which has been considered a potential acquirer of the $77bn company, with its share price still down about 6% since the announcement. But is Disney’s service the beginning of a Netflix killer?
“Disney’s new service is not positioned to compete directly with Netflix, but adds to the mix of options out there for consumers,” said Richard Broughton of Ampere Analysis.
“Disney’s move is more about developing new revenue streams than it is about building a Netflix-like competitor.”
Broughton said Disney had not frozen out Netflix: there are rumours of talks to keep a range of Disney titles, including Lucasfilm and Marvel movies, on its US service. What has gone largely unnoticed is that Disney already has an online TV service, co-existing with Netflix in the UK.
In 2015, the company , priced at £9.99 a month, specialising in kids’ and family content from Bambi and The Jungle Book to Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, as well as books and music.
The service has not impeded Netflix UK’s growth. It has about 6.5 million subscribers paying around £8 a month, but there are no figures or analyst estimates to indicate how DisneyLife has fared. And Disney isn’t sharing.