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Disney Plus Launch Snafus: What Went Wrong?

For some users, Disney Plus was a Disney Minus on its big launch day Tuesday.

In its Nov. 12 debut, the service was beset by multiple problems, including Disney Plus customers being unable to log in to the service, access specific content, or use certain streaming devices — while some who called Disney’s customer service line for help were left on hold for an hour or more.

A Disney spokeswoman declined a request to interview executives about the problems. In a statement Tuesday morning, the company blamed unexpectedly high demand for the situation and said it was “working to quickly resolve the current user issue.”

For Disney, given the hype and the company’s big stakes with Disney Plus, the problems are “a black eye coming out of the gate,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives. “There’s no way to sugarcoat that. Disney needs to execute flawlessly and this is a step back. Right now, it’s Netflix’s world and everyone else is paying rent.”

That said, Ives still believes Disney will be a “powerhouse in streaming.” Investors shrugged off the Disney Plus glitches, with the company’s stock closing up 1.35% Tuesday.

A streaming service like Disney Plus has multiple moving parts, and any one of them can become a choke point. Industry sources told Variety that the Disney Plus problems are not related to the video-streaming infrastructure, which Disney is handing off to content-delivery network providers like Akamai Technologies.

Rather, the problems appear rooted in Disney Plus’ authentication systems, which handle the process of verifying users are valid subscribers with Disney’s own apps and third-party devices. If the authentication piece of the software stack was overloaded with requests, as may have been the case, that would have led to the problems users reported having logging in.

The launch glitches are not a disaster – more of a “mild disruption of service,” said Theo Schlossnagle, CTO and founder of Circonus, whose platform provides real-time infrastructure services monitoring for customers including Major League Baseball. “These flash storms of new users are very, very rare. And it’s hard to get that right the first time.”

Disney could have designed Disney Plus to accommodate peak demand well over the number of projected Day One users, but that probably wouldn’t have been as cost-effective as fixing problems on the fly, Schlossnagle added. “You can design for the whole world to show up but unless it’s a one-day event like the Super Bowl, at a certain point you get diminishing returns,” he said. “They probably made wise investment choices.”

The glitches are not completely surprising given that “every streaming service that’s launched at scale has had problems,” said Dan Rayburn, a longtime streaming industry analyst and consultant. Still, he added, “Was this more hiccups than I expected? Absolutely.”

Disney hasn’t given an indication of how widespread the technical errors are, or how many subscribers are affected. “This could be just first-day problems,” Rayburn said. “It’s not that big of a deal – if they can resolve it today. If there are still issues tomorrow, it will be a problem because too many consumers will complain.”

Nevertheless, Disney compounded the technical problems by evidently being woefully unprepared to handle the calls from frustrated Disney Plus users — and then issuing the statement that high demand caused the issues in the first place. “It’s not an excuse to say, ‘Too many people tried to access the service.’ That’s bullshit PR,” said Abinash Tripathy, founder of Helpshift, a San Francisco-based customer-service platform startup. “The reality is their technology is probably poorly implemented.”

Problems people had accessing Disney Plus created “a dog-pile situation” leading to long waits for customer service and support. “What you’re seeing is a massive, traditional media company just not being prepared for this,” Tripathy said.

As the day progressed, there were signs that Disney was successfully resolving the initial problems. According to monitoring service Downdetector.com, user-reported issues peaked at 8,441 incidents at about 9 a.m. ET on Nov. 12; that had declined to 748 as of 3 p.m. ET. (Note that those numbers are not reflective of all Disney Plus subscriber who may have encountered problems.)

In getting swamped in its debut, Disney may have been a victim of its own successful promotional campaign leading up to the Disney Plus debut — having heavily marketed it ahead of the launch in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands.

In the U.S., the media conglomerate spent more than $6 million on national TV ads in the six weeks leading up to launch, including over $1.25 million on spots that ran during NFL games, according to research firm MediaRadar. Disney mostly allocated TV ad spend to promoting Disney Plus as a whole but it did highlight the new Star Wars-set original series “The Mandalorian,” whose premiere episode launched Tuesday on Disney Plus.

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