The launch of Disney Plus on November 12 marked a watershed moment in both online streaming and theatrical box office. Content is king when it comes to streaming, and while the service began with only 10 new original series, the inclusion of family-friendly entries from the Disney vault, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, the Star Wars franchise, and the studio’s newly acquired Fox content, makes Disney Plus an attractive option in a crowded marketplace.
Social media tracking reveals that Disney Plus original programming has the potential to become a new driver for the studio’s theatrical offerings. This would not only set it apart from the other streaming giants, but pay off in more than just monthly subscriptions. Disney Plus’s flagship original series, “The Mandalorian,” offers an instructive look at the potentially symbiotic relationship between Disney Plus and the box office.
The Disney marketing arm for the Star Wars franchise has used its official social media accounts to market the new series relentlessly and to great effect. The Instagram page for Star Wars has almost 12 million followers, close to 20 million on Facebook, and over 4 million on Twitter. With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker scheduled to release a month after the launch of Disney Plus, the synergy between them has been spectacular. Instagram has already generated over 34 million likes since June 1 to lead all films tracked on the service, handily beating the second and third place of 23 million and 20 million (both of which happen to be Disney titles: Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home).
While Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will not owe its ultimate success to “The Mandalorian,” the series has generated great interest and awareness among fans. For any franchise, increased interest on the eve of a release is always a good thing.
Consider a similar model for Marvel movies, with a collection of web series already in the pipeline, including “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “WandaVision,” “Loki,” and “Hawkeye”. All of these will be more closely tied to the successful MCU franchise than previous Marvel series such as “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Luke Cage,” or “Jessica Jones.” The audience for the MCU is huge, garnering worldwide revenue above $22 billion. Original content on Disney Plus featuring these characters will not only drive subscriptions but help drive interest in further theatrical films. If we consider a similar model for other popular titles, Pixar films, the Fox catalogue, or Disney animated releases—the sky is truly the limit.
Disney owns some of the most popular social media pages for movies on all major platforms. And as they showed in the lead up to the release of Disney Plus, they were adept in leveraging those pages to drive subscriptions. The banner images for many of those pages were used to promote Disney Plus in the lead up to its launch. This is a luxury Disney has that its competitors do not: access to tens of millions of fans worldwide, actively engaged across multiple social channels. This is an invaluable resource for the company to leverage, allowing it to achieve a level of success none of its streaming competitors can match.
Online streaming has been painted as an existential threat to the theatrical box office. Disney Plus might be the first streaming service to show how the two can coexist and thrive together.