At the start of November last year, mere weeks before the launch of Disney+ in the US and Canada, Disney announced that its first proper streaming service wouldn't be hitting the UK and other western European countries until 31st March – six months down the line. That date has been moved up by a week, but we really have to wonder whether the delay was actually necessary.
The reason for the delay is actually really simple: it's all down to legacy deals Disney has with other broadcasters. Particularly Sky, which has an extensive catalogue of Disney movies that Sky Movies customers can access on demand, including the first six Star Wars movies and damn-near every movie from the MCU. You know; those films that are the tentpole of Disney's box office dominance, and the kind of thing Sky isn't likely to let go of unless it absolutely has to. So Disney has made the decision to hold off on launching Disney+ until those regional contracts have run their course – and that, frankly, was a mistake.
Disney obviously wants people to sign up to Disney+, and given the amount of content it's pumped into the catalogue the goal is to let people enjoy damn near everything Disney owns. Failing that, it seems the company has opted for the "fuck it, let's wait" approach. If Disney+ was simply an archive of past Disney content, that wouldn't be an issue. The problem arises thanks to Disney using the service as a portal for a new range of high-budget original TV series. TV series that people have been really looking forward to, and are not willing to wait six months to see. The fact The Mandalorian topped piracy charts in the days after launch and ended up as the third most-pirated TV show of 2019 – despite only premiering on 12th November – is the perfect example of that.
All the hype around the surprise appearance of Baby Yoda probably didn't help either.
So the solution? Assuming there wasn't anything in legacy contracts that prevented Disney from launching its own streaming services (which seems unlikely given the fact Disney Life already exists), what was to stop Disney launching a cut-down version of Disney+ with the content it did have the rights to? Disney+ Lite, if you will, a service with far less content than the full service, but with a reduced price tag to match. Then once the legacy contracts are up, Disney releases the rest of its content and bumps up the price to the full £6 a month.
Simple, right? And considering streaming catalogues are always different based on geographical location, it shouldn't have been too difficult to have a reduced catalogue in places where legacy deals have to be respected. And since catalogues are always in flux from month to month, even on Disney+, adding new content when it's available should be a doddle.
Not everyone who will sign up to Disney+ in March would have signed up for a 'Lite' version of the service, just as much as not everyone that pirated The Mandalorian ever had any intention of paying to access it legally. But even having a small number of paying customers sign up is better than none.
Obviously launching a service in a new region isn't free, and there are overhead costs to worry about. And if people are paying a reduced price then the chances of covering your costs are slimmer – especially when you're deliberately offering a reduced catalogue. But that's a risk with every subscription service, and at least this way you have some money coming in, an initial pool of subscribers who have already invested in your service, and you're not releasing a TV series that multiple nations of fans can't access.
Big media companies are always droning on about pirates, but deliberately denying access to an anticipated series, from one of the biggest franchises in the world, isn't going to do much to deter people. Some people even went so far as to claim they'd pay just to watch The Mandalorian, so why didn't Disney make it happen?
Disney no doubt has plenty of reasons that make sense to the people in charge, but for us mortals it didn't make a great deal of sense. But hey, at least now we only have to wait another two months and two days before we get see the brand new 4K HDR recut of Star Wars.