Piracy will be Disney Pluss worst enemy at launch

The way we consume TV has changed so much in the last few years that we almost can’t imagine a world without simulcasting. Imagine waiting a week, or a month, to find out who died last week in Game of Thrones, while having to navigate the nightmarish realm of Twitter spoilers and opinion pieces. 

It’s a better age for TV viewers as a result: shows like Star Trek spin-off Picard launch on multiple platforms at once globally by companies that would otherwise compete domestically in the US, because some studios don’t have a streaming presence in certain territories and rightly want people to see their shows on legal platforms.

Disney Plus is a more complicated beast. It has no release date in most of Europe, but the first live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, is locked to that platform. Outside of the US, Canada, and the Netherlands (Australia and New Zealand get the service a week later on November 19) there’s no legal way to watch this ten-episode weekly show until Disney decides to release it. 

  • Check out everything we know about Disney Plus at launch, and get the lowdown on all the Marvel TV shows coming to Disney Plus, too. 

That is its prerogative, of course, and we’d speculate there are probably logistical and content-based reasons behind Disney Plus’s delays in some territories, rather than this being a deliberate move to annoy hungry Star Wars fans. 

But it does make The Mandalorian a prime target for piracy, as well as the other Disney Plus big hitters arriving on November 12, like the live-action Lady and the Tramp movie. The fear of missing out is almost certainly going to be a huge motivator for people to steal this content, since they’re being given no legal option to buy it. This is the sort of behavior that streaming services are designed to combat, rather than cause. Yet the regional restrictions won’t stop everyone from talking about it next week – the demand will be too strong, and people will find a way. 

What else could Disney have actually done?

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

There were other potential ways that Disney could’ve got The Mandalorian and its other exclusive content to people who have to wait for the service to launch. In the UK, at least, Disney already has a streaming service – DisneyLife, which hosts an array of Disney movies and Star Wars-related content for a reasonable £5 a month. It feels like a half-measure, without the breadth, promise and Simpsons episodes of Disney Plus, but it is somewhere that could’ve hosted The Mandalorian while the other service is being prepared (responses to customer queries have ruled that out).

Likewise, Disney could’ve sold the show to local broadcasters, but then it would’ve lost the appeal of having a major exclusive when the service actually reached a point where it’s ready to launch. It also could have soft-launched Disney Plus in Europe without the full breadth of things to come – but then it could’ve risked making a bad first impression with a potentially anemic library, when this is a fundamental piece of Disney’s future that needs to succeed. 

It’s a tricky scenario with no straightforward solution, then, but from the outside looking in, it’s just kind of annoying. This is the age of the global launch, of midnight screenings, of digital pre-loading. Something as major as new Star Wars content having no release date in loads of countries is a weird anomaly in 2019. And the way this is going to play out isn’t ideal for anyone, really: customers who want to spend money and watch The Mandalorian cannot do so, and Disney for its part can’t take their money and satisfy demand. Does anyone actually win out of how this launch has been staggered? This feels like a situation that’ll inevitably attract piracy. 

Excessive paid choices are likely to encourage piracy

Staggered regional releases are one thing, but the longer term issue Disney faces is one that all streaming service providers will have to confront in the next few years. We’ve reported before on how a fragmented streaming market may lead to more illegal downloads, and now it’s coming into focus how much US consumers will potentially need to pay to get the shows they want.

HBO Max will cost $15 a month, the same as the existing HBO Now service. And even though Disney Plus is a very reasonable $7 a month, when you start totalling it with Netflix, Amazon, CBS All Access, Hulu, and more specialist streamers, the price escalates. Being able to see everything will be out of some users’ price range.

That’s the reality we’re entering. The market is unlikely to support all of those competitors, and eventually it’ll likely even out to a more sensible number for US consumers to think about. Even the slightly disappointing launch of Apple TV Plus suggests you need more than a war chest of cash, big stars and a massive hardware user base to make a splash in this competitive era of TV. 

Disney Plus is a great bet to succeed in all of that – it’s just a shame it couldn’t make the maximum possible impact by launching everywhere in the world at once. But then again, The Mandalorian is just day one of Disney Plus. Loads of curious people will bite at launch, just to browse the library and see if this prized Star Wars series is worth the wait, or to watch a documentary series about Jeff Goldblum – check out the trailer above for that gem. By the time Disney Plus launches everywhere, though, we’ll have a better idea of where it fits into the existing streaming landscape, and its original content will really be put to the test.

It’s just a shame that some of us have to wait, and that piracy is the inevitable result of that. 

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