The House of Mouse is synonymous with wholesome, family friendly movies and TV shows.
And when Disney launched its streaming service 15 months ago, the platform was populated with series and films that were unlikely to offend impressionable youngsters.
While the selection of family fare along with a smattering of Star Wars, Marvel and National Geographic titles was enough for many households, for others, they might’ve been looking for something with more oomph.
Yesterday, Disney added Star to its streaming service, a collection of more adult-oriented movies and TV shows drawn from the 20th Century Fox library as well as Touchstone, Searchlight and titles from its American broadcasting network, ABC.
Now? Well, now you can be horrified by the sight of an alien bursting out of someone’s chest or hear a red-clad superhero drop every swear word you could think of.
But how does classics such as Alien and Deadpool sit alongside Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Flora & Ulysses, a movie about a flying squirrel?
Disney Australia and New Zealand managing director Kylie Watson-Wheeler told news.com.au the company was very cognisant about communicating to subscribers the platform’s parental controls, “as well as adding that this content is not for kids”.
“Disney just got a whole lot bigger with Star,” she said. “The addition of Star takes this to the next level.
“More adults view TV series and movies and this will have a broader appeal and relevance to an even wider audience in the market. Star will also have a deeper offering of content across genres, everything from dramas and comedies to thrillers and suspense.”
Ms Watson-Wheeler, who is personally excited to rewatch The Grand Budapest Hotel and The X-Files series, name-checked franchises such as Glee, Alias, Scandal, Die Hard, Alien and Taken as well as critically lauded titles such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as drawcards for that audience.
Broadening Disney+’s appeal comes at a time when the Australian subscription video on demand (SVOD) market is saturated with choice.
Existing from streamers now number more than 15, with the likes Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Binge offering a wide selection of mainstream titles to more niche services such as the horror-focused Shudder or the architecture and design Shelter.
Disney+, like its international counterparts, does not disclose membership numbers by region but globally, after just over a year in operation, it reported 95 million subscribers worldwide. By comparison, Netflix has 203 million subscribers, but it took many more years to reach that.
Both companies have benefited from lockdowns around the world which saw cinemas and other entertainment venues shut, forcing audiences to find distractions at home.
The Star library, as well as an increased slate of Disney+ exclusives, most notably six Marvel shows, should – in theory – supercharge its growth. But Ms Watson-Wheeler is coy.
“We don’t about our numbers here but Disney+ has already far exceeded our expectations. It’s clear our local audience has already embraced our content, including Hamilton, Pixar’s Soul, The Mandalorian and, of course, WandaVision, which I’m absolutely addicted to.
“As a result of that, our audience has continued to deepen and broaden. After a year, we’re already a strong player in this space and the addition of Star will further enhance our appeal to Australians.
“By the time Star has been on Disney+ for the year, we will have almost doubled our content offering.”
“We certainly see a strong trajectory of growth over this time.”
Ms Watson-Wheeler also flagged but didn’t firmly commit to Australian original movies and series, a point of contention between the local production industry, who have asked government to legislate or mandate a quota, and international streaming platforms.
Netflix and Amazon Prime have both commissioned a number of productions, possibly to pre-empt or ward off government moves. Disney has previously made Australian productions for its pay TV Disney Channel.
“Local content will play an important role on our platform in the future, particularly under the Star brand,” she said. “We are currently exploring both scripted and non-scripted opportunities, but we don’t have anything specific to announce yet.
“From our perspective, it’s about ensuring that as a platform we’re trying to engage deeply with the local audience, that we’re bringing them content they want and that’s important to them. And we definitely think that the local element is an important component of that.”
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