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Disney+: Everything you need to know about Disney’s streaming service

Disney+ is a subscription-based streaming video service owned by Disney that’s similar to Netflix, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime Video. It offers a library of movies and TV shows that can be viewed at any time across a wide range of devices. Disney+ was originally announced in September 2017 and launched on November 12, 2019.

Currently available in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, Disney+ will launch in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain on March 31, 2020.

Though its library of movies and TV series isn’t as large as that of  Netflix, Disney+ is the exclusive streaming home of a significant portion of Disney’s massive content archive, and is the only place to see new material like the live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian, as well as upcoming content from Marvel Studios. It also hosts a wealth of content from Pixar and National Geographic.

What’s on the way?

New Disney movies such as Frozen 2Toy Story 4, and Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker will appear on Disney+ sometime after their theatrical and home-video releases. Disney CEO Bob Iger says that Disney+ will eventually stream everything made under the Disney banner, although more mature movies released through Disney-owned Fox will be relegated to Hulu.

Disney+’s original productions are where things get exciting. In addition to The Mandalorian, Disney+ will host at least two more live-action Star Wars series: A Rogue One prequel in which Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk will reprise their roles from that film, and an Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope that features Ewan McGregor reprising his role from the prequel films. A seventh season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars will debut on Disney+ in January 2020.

Disney+ will also include seven live-action shows that tie directly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In Falcon and Winter Soldier, Loki, WandaVision, and Hawkeye, big-screen stars like Elizabeth Olsen and Tom Hiddleston will reprise their MCU roles in shows that will directly affect Marvel’s big-screen adventures, including Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessFalcon and Winter Soldier is set to launch in August 2020 and WandaVision will be released in December. The next string of shows will introduce characters like Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight to the MCU before they appear in feature films. The Marvel series start rolling out in fall 2020 and will release through 2022 (at least).

Muppet fans have two new series to look forward to. The Jim Henson Company will produce Earth to Ned, a half-hour talk show parody hosted by a blue alien, while Muppets Now, a “short-form unscripted series,” is scheduled for a 2020 release.

Disney is also digging into some of its back catalogs to create new Disney+ shows and movies. A Hocus Pocus sequel is currently in preproduction at the streamer, with Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all rumored to return. Monsters at Work, a cartoon based on Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., was one of the first titles announced for Disney+, while Hillary Duff has agreed to appear in a Lizzie McGuire revival. Certain Fox properties, including Home Alone, are slated for Disney+ remakes, while several unscripted series and original content from National Geographic are also in the works.

You can see the full list of upcoming original Disney+ series here.

A rocky start

On launch day, many users experienced problems connecting to the new streaming service. Even people who could access the service reported broken images, categories that refused to load, and problems getting the Disney+ shows and movies to play.

Those problems have been ironed out somewhat — with over 10 million sign-ups on launch day, a few problems were inevitable — but the user interface for Disney+ still needs some work. As we noted in our review, the search function was fundamentally broken at launch, and it remains somewhat problematic.

Things seem to be getting better, though. Disney added a playback indicator — to show how far into a TV show or movie you are — to interfaces for the web and various devices, as well as a resume button to let you pick up where you left off and a “Continue watching” queue for projects you recently watched. We’re hopeful that those features will arrive on all devices soon. Disney seems to be devoted to fixing the platform’s shortcomings.

Skyrocketing membership

Despite the shaky start, Disney+’s launch became one of 2019’s most culturally significant moments. Disney+ was 2019’s most commonly searched term on Google, beating out the iPhone 11 and Game of Thrones. App-tracking company Apptopia reported that by mid-December, Disney+ had already surpassed 22 million downloads.

During its first-quarter earnings call with investors on February 3, 2020, Disney CEO Bob Iger reported that Disney+ amassed 28.6 million subscribers since the November launch, far exceeding the 20 million that Disney expected. That number also shattered Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne’s original projection that the platform would have 13 million subscribers by the end of 2020, and 50 million subscribers across all of its online video services, which include Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+. As of February 2020, the trio stood at 65.6 million subscribers.

Disney itself projected that Disney+ alone would have between 60 and 90 million subscribers by 2024, a number which would be second only to Netflix for streaming services. Swinburne, alternatively, projected that 2024 number may be over 130 million subscribers. Based on the recent numbers, the streaming platform seems poised to meet or exceed that number.

Which devices does Disney+ support?

Disney+ is available on:

  • iOS
  • Apple TV (tvOS)
  • Google Chromecast
  • Android
  • Android TV
  • PlayStation 4
  • Roku
  • Xbox One
  • Select Amazon Fire TV devices
  • LG Smart TVs
  • Samsung Smart TVs

If you’re an Apple device owner, or you have one of the many smart TVs and streaming devices that feature the Apple TV App, you can subscribe to (and watch) Disney+ within that all-in-one streaming interface. Disney+ also supports in-app purchases on Apple devices.

How much does Disney+ cost?

Disney+ costs $7 per month or $70 per year and comes with a 7-day free trial. However, Disney+ isn’t Disney’s only streaming service. Following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, Disney also controls Hulu, and it offers a sports-focused service called ESPN+. For $13, you can get a bundle that includes all three services, saving you $5 a month.

Programming is ad-free, although you’ll see some banner advertisements for Starz, the premium cable network, on the login page. Reportedly, Disney signed over the streaming rights for some of its movies (most notably Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens) to Starz a few years back and had to give Starz something to get those films on Disney+.

What does Disney+ include?

Disney+ currently hosts hundreds of Disney-related movies and television series. Classic animated features like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio are there, as is modern-day Disney Channel fare like Descendants, vintage live-action features including The Parent Trap and Old Yeller, forgotten oddities like the made-for-TV Fuzzbucket, a huge collection of ’90s Marvel cartoons, almost every Star Wars flick, Pixar movies, and much, much more.

The service currently includes most Marvel movies (16), as well. Most of the MCU entries that you can’t find on Disney+ will be unavailable until various points in 2020 due to licensing agreements with Netflix and other streaming services. Disney+ has all of the Star Wars movies except for Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is similarly under lease to Netflix for a few more months.

All of the animated films previously locked away in the Disney “vault” can also be found on Disney+, with one exception: Song of the South, which Disney has buried since the ’80s due to its racially insensitive content. Some of Disney’s other animated features have also been edited (Dumbo is missing a racially insensitive scene, for example), and Disney+ is running advisories ahead of content that it believes could contain “outdated cultural depictions.”

Speaking of animation, Disney+ is now home to the entire Simpsons catalog. Currently, episodes are only available in a joke-killing widescreen format, but Disney announced it will release a fix for the aspect ratio issue sometime in 2020. The platform does not include the season 3 premiere, “Stark Raving Dad,” which features the voice of Michael Jackson.

Original series currently on Disney+ include The Mandalorian, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, and a number of lighthearted reality shows and cartoons.

There’s a lot — too much to share here — so check out the complete list for all the details. If you have time, you can also watch the three-plus-hour trailer Disney put together, which previews pretty much everything on Disney+ (although it’s missing a few big hits, like Avengers: Endgame and James Cameron’s Avatar, that were added to Disney+ at the last minute).

Impressive video and audio quality

Disney+ offers select content in both Dolby Vision, Dolby’s dynamic version of HDR that offers evolving content to supported TVs to squeeze the best contrast out of each scene, as well as Dolby Atmos, which provides an immersive, hemispheric soundstage for those with supported hardware.

While Dolby Vision is becoming more common, both Vision and Atmos are still rarities in streaming land, supported by only a few services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and available on a small amount of content. One of the most tantalizing aspects about Disney+’s 4K content  — for Star Wars fans at least — is the availability of its Star Wars films, including the original trilogy (that is, the ’90s special editions) in 4K with Dolby Vision and Atmos support. This makes Disney+ the only way to view these films in these formats.

For those wondering about family viewing, Disney+ offers four simultaneous streams at once on its service for its basic $7-per-month fee.

What it won’t include

In keeping with Disney’s family-friendly approach to programming, there won’t be any R-rated projects available on Disney+, either. Any movies or TV series that push the boundaries of Disney’s typical PG-13 audience will be diverted to Hulu, according to various reports. This includes titles like Marvel’s Deadpool.

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