The Danger of Disney+
With the launch of Disney’s long-discussed Disney+ streaming service and its pulling of all its content from Netflix, it has become evident the corporation is fast becoming, if it has not already done so, a monopoly. Monopolies have been illegal on the federal level since 1890 with the passing of the Sherman Antitrust Law (which was bolstered by the Clayton Antitrust Law later in 1914.) So how in 2019 is it possible for Disney to have slowly reached this point? To answer this question, we have to start from the beginning.
Disney first came into fruition in 1923 when creator and animator Walt Disney sold “Alice Comedies” to a distributor in New York. The company, originally Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, then quickly changed its name to Walt Disney Studio. By 1928, Walt and his chief animator Ub Iwerks had created a film starring Walt’s legendary character, Mickey Mouse and the company quickly took off. Within the next couple of decades, Disney grew as an overall studio releasing films such as Treasure Island, Cinderella, Melody Time, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. In 1955, Walt Disney opened its first theme park “Disneyland.” This essentially was the start of Walt Disney Studio expanding its grasp of entertainment— branching out past animation and film and into a “world domination” of sorts.
Although Walt Disney died in 1966, this didn’t stop the expansion of the studio. His brother Roy Disney took over operations briefly, which included overseeing the opening of Disneyland in California before his death in 1971. Going into the 80s, Disney’s new management team wanted to maximize its assets and thus became the Disney Channel. Disneyland began collaborations with George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola and more resorts were opened in 1990 and 1991.
Disney started dominating the Hollywood box offices with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Pretty Woman, and Sister Act, which passed the $100 million revenue milestone. Disney started Hollywood Pictures and acquired the Wrather Corporation and television station KHJ. They purchased Childcraft and several profitable children’s-catered stores. By 1992, Disney started Hollywood Records which produced music from a broad range of categories from rap to score to entire movie soundtracks. The next endeavor was publishing with Hyperion Books for Children and Disney Press. Disney purchased the leading consumer science monthly magazine Discover in 1991. In 1993, they were awarded an NHL franchise for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Disney crossed into Broadway in 1994 with the production of Beauty and the Beast and subsequent box office hits The Lion King and Aida. There were over 725 Disney Stores worldwide by the end of the millennium. Disney completely acquired Capital Cities/ABC with a $19 billion transaction in 1996. In the deal, they acquired 10 TV stations, 21 radio stations, seven newspapers and ownership positions in four different cable networks. With the coming of the current president, Robert A. Iger, Disney made $25 billion in revenue for the first time. Under his leadership, Disney expanded with DisneyQuest, ESPN Zone, and Disney Magic the first of its luxury cruise ships.
Disney’s collaborations with Pixar brought them blockbusters such as Monsters Inc. and other live action productions Pearl Harbor, Remember the Titans, and The Princess Diaries which brought the company huge success. Disney launched SoapNet, and a few years later acquired The Muppets in 2004. In May of that same year, Disney purchased Pixar Animation Studios and hired Ed Catmull and John Lasseter as the creative heads of Disney Feature Animation. In 2009, one of Disney’s biggest and most important purchases came to fruition: Marvel Entertainment. In 2010, they sold Miramax and began distributing DreamWorks films as well. Within a few years, Disney Junior replaced SoapNet and another big acquisition of Disney’s happened in 2012 with the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. All of this culminated with the finalization of Disney’s $7.1 billion FOX merger earlier this year. And most recently, Disney collected its sixth “Infinity Stone” by revealing the launch of Disney+.
Here’s what we know about Disney+. According to an article from Variety, “Disney+, the Mouse House’s new SVOD entry launching in the U.S. this November at $6.99 monthly, will cost nearly half of Netflix’s standard HD plan. But in its first year, Disney+ will have less than one-fifth of the selections on Netflix in the U.S.” The article also discusses what content we can expect. “In the first year of launch, Disney+ will include 7,500 episodes of current and past TV shows and 500 movies, according to Disney.” Disney’s licensing deal with Netflix will come to a close and by 2020, Disney projects made after 2019 will only be available to stream on Disney+. This includes Captain Marvel, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Avengers: Endgame. “For Disney’s fiscal year 2020 (which ends in the September quarter of next year), the company expects to spend $1 billion in cash on original programming for Disney+, rising to around $2.5 billion by 2024, CFO Christine McCarthy told analysts at the Disney investor day earlier this month.” So Disney certainly has the money and the manpower to become a big challenger to Netflix, especially because they own another rival streaming service: Hulu.
Disney now owns approximately 40% of the film and 40% of the TV we consume. A complete list of all companies they own could be its own article. An overwhelming number of people are either unaware that Disney owns anything outside of their name and others are only aware of their connection to ABC Network, but Disney’s dominion is far more reaching than we realized. They’ve been acquiring and expanding at a very sinister rate every decade. As we reach the close of this decade, Disney is establishing itself as an even more formidable player in the entertainment industry.
So, what’s the big deal with Disney making all these money moves? Why is it so dangerous for them to become a monopoly? While Disney’s “monopoly” isn’t technically illegal because it hasn’t come about in a corrupt way, it doesn’t make its existence any less worrisome. Disney owning so much of our entertainment can affect quality, price, and access to everything media-related— potentially eliminating any concept of free market and fairness. These outcomes hold tremendous worry.
For example, Disney is already considering censoring the Spielberg directed West Side Story remake set to come out in 2020 because they worry about the cigarette smoking not being PG-13 enough. The more general a movie rating is, the more accessible it can be, meaning more revenue can be made. When studios see these bigger profit margins, they stick to this formula of censoring pictures and slowly and maybe, surely, our films will continue to be censored. What can this say about the future of the art form beyond its monetary implications?
Disney is a century-old company that has managed to dominate over half of the respective industries it participates in, with much of its rapid growth happening in the last three or so decades alone. Who’s to say where Disney will be in the next 30 years? 50 years? 100 years?
While the future is impossible to predict, it’s safe to guess Disney will not be satisfied any time soon with its growth potential and will continue to make moves to expand its reach. It’s that feeling of uncertainty, that giant question mark hanging in the air, the storm of what is yet to come. The true danger of Disney+ is that it does not foresee enough being enough.