For three hours on Friday morning, Disney flooded social media with a Main Street Parade of first looks, announcements, and title treatments for at least 45 series, features, and specials set to debut on its streaming service, Disney Plus. The promotional cavalcade covered every section of the service — Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney animation and live action, and National Geographic, as well as some offerings for Hulu and Star Plus — as ostensibly part of a company-wide effort to celebrate the streamer’s two year anniversary, dubbed Disney Plus Day.
But coming just two days after Disney announced that Disney Plus added a meager 2.1 million subscribers in its most recent quarter — causing a 7% drop in the company’s stock price on Thursday — the motive behind the effort was plain: To remind Wall Street and subscribers alike that Disney Plus remains second to none in the breadth, depth, and quality of its content. “Trust us,” the Mouse is saying. “We’ve still got the goods.”
The only problem was that, with a few standout exceptions, the Disney Plus Day effort didn’t actually deliver much by way of mind-melting footage or genuine news. And for a company that has prided itself on delivering top-flight production value — especially for company-wide, public-facing events — it was odd in the extreme to experience almost all of the Disney Plus Day presentation through a single, vertiginously long Twitter thread.
Disney is also dealing with the unfortunate champagne problem of competing against itself. The company’s four-hour investor day presentation in December 2020 was an unrelenting firehose of news from across the company, with a special focus on over 60 new titles exclusive to Disney Plus, including 10 series each from Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm.
Many of the titles highlighted during Disney Plus Day on Friday with trailers and first looks, in fact, were first announced a year ago during the investor presentation, including live-action features “Disenchanted” and “Hocus Pocus 2,” animated series “Baymax” and “Tiana,” and docu-series “Welcome to Earth” with Will Smith and “Limitless” with Chris Hemsworth. One of the bigger announcements, the “Predator” prequel “Prey,” wasn’t for Disney Plus’s domestic service; instead, the title will debut on Hulu in the U.S., on the Star brand on Disney Plus in international markets, and on Star Plus in Latin America.
Lucasfilm’s presence was also surprisingly muted for Disney Plus Day, given the scope of the company’s announcements for the streamer last year. To build anticipation for “The Book of Boba Fett” in December, the company debuted “Under the Helmet: The Legacy of Boba Fett,” a 21-minute retrospective documentary on the iconic character. But neither the series adaptation of the 1988 feature “Willow” with Warwick Davis nor the “Star Wars” spin-off series “Obi-Wan Kenobi” with Ewan McGregor showcased any actual footage from the shows. Instead, Davis introduced the film’s cast in a charming, tongue-in-cheek video, while McGregor and director Deborah Chow showed off some concept art and teased a confrontation between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. There were no mentions, let alone updates, of “Andor,” the “Rogue One” prequel series starring Diego Luna, or “Ahsoka,” the spin-off of “The Mandalorian” starring Rosario Dawson.
Disney Animation’s “Big Hero Six” spin-off “Baymax” unveiled a new trailer, but Pixar’s presentation — including announcing the “Cars” spin-off series “Cars on the Road,” with Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy, and previewing “Win or Lose,” a series set at a middle school softball game — also didn’t include any finished footage.
As Disney CEO Bob Chapek noted on the company’s Nov. 10 earnings call, Disney Plus has yet to reach the level of original content offerings per year that were envisioned when the service first began to take shape within Disney in 2017. Disney Plus debuted Nov. 12, 2019, just a few months before the world went into lockdown and COVID-19 disrupted Hollywood’s supply chain of TV and film production. Chapek noted that only in the second half of 2022 will Disney Plus reach its intended “cadence” of content launches.
So with not much new to show off, Disney turned to Marvel Studios to deliver the biggest impact, as it has for the better part of a decade. Marvel obliged with a 14-minute special that debuted directly on Disney Plus (rather than Twitter). The sizzle reel managed to squeeze in an extended trailer for “Hawkeye,” first looks at 2022’s “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk,” and “Ms. Marvel;” official announcements for the “Hawkeye” spin-off series “Echo” and the “WandaVision” spin-off series “Agatha: House of Harkness” (both first reported months ago by Variety); and updates for previously announced titles “Ironheart,” “Secret Invasion,” “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” “I Am Groot” and the second season of the animated series “What If…?”
Speaking of animation, Marvel’s biggest news was unveiling three new major animated series for Disney Plus, including Marvel Studios’ first crack at the “X-Men” franchise. Curiously, though, Marvel did not tout premiere dates for any of the 14 titles slated for Disney Plus; the closest Marvel came was officially confirming it had bumped “Ms. Marvel” — which was originally announced to premiere in late 2021 — to summer 2022.
This kind of thing isn’t easy. In September, Netflix previewed over 70 upcoming titles during its Tudum fan event, a three-hour video special that featured an array of first-look footage and extended Q&As with the casts of several of its shows and movies. Netflix said Tudum earned over 25 million views, but without nearly the same cohesive brand identity that Disney has, the titles on offer were so wildly disparate that the sum felt far smaller than the parts. WarnerMedia’s narrowcasted DC FanDome event in October — a four-hour video event previewing 25 DC Comics adaptations coming to HBO Max, the CW, and movie theaters — packed more of a punch, pulling in over 66 million views, according to the company. And yet virtually all of the buzz was concentrated on first looks at a small handful of film titles: “The Batman,” “The Flash” and “Black Adam.”
Indeed, between Netflix’s Tudum, DC FanDome, and Disney Plus Day, the jury is out on the wisdom of mounting marathon promotional events for a media company’s full slate of titles, rather than building bespoke campaigns suited to each title — and when there’s enough new material to generate genuine excitement. Like, say, this irreverent bit of satirical promotion for Amazon’s superhero series “The Boys,” touting the fictional streaming service Vought Plus:
Happy Vought+ Day! Here's a look at what's coming up from America's favorite streaming platform. Sign up now before the subscription increase next week. pic.twitter.com/7kyTF9YuMF
— Vought International (@VoughtIntl) November 12, 2021