Disney+, Netflix and the Revenge of the Familiar

When I first turned on Netflix, I was – like many others – blown away.

The first surprise was its user experience: everything was accessible via streaming and it was loading fast and smoothly. It was just unbelievable.

The second shock was the content: there was so much choice and it was so diverse. 

Netflix has been the hero of streaming for many years now. It has embodied the craving of a whole generation for new experiences and constant stimulation. It actually does a great job at that: people will find unusual and interesting staff on Netflix that will be part of a conversation the next day.

Now, Disney+ is showing us another way.

The Mandalorian on Disney Plus - Mando and Baby Yoda

Netflix and the impossibility of choice

Lately, Netflix has been showing some self-doubt.

With so many different titles, users can’t choose and they spend their time browsing rather than watching. Netflix has tried to fix this with a “shuffle” option that will load a random content and even by launching a traditional live channel. I suspect, though, that the problem is not just in the amount of content that Netflix provides.

The problem is also rooted in the novelty and diversity of the content itself. Apart from famous movies, most of Netflix content is designed to provoke and inspire. Stuff you don’t know and never dreamed about.

Will you watch a documentary about the toys of your childhood or a series about drag queens or another documentary that is just about tacos? Everything is so wildly different that you never know what you will be going to watch: different authors, different directors, different production styles.

Which leads us to the core problem: trust. Since you don’t know, every single content presents a huge step just in front of the entrance. 

If you put your trust in the wrong title, you might just waste your next 45 minutes (or even some hours, if you stick to the whole series). So you just skip it and look for something else. Rinse and repeat.

The Netflix brand in itself is not a guarantee: its value proposition is mostly about user experience, not content. Even if you were to only browse content produced by Netflix itself, it wouldn’t mean a thing.

Aaaaaand there comes Disney.

Disney+ and the value of brand trust

Something different is happening on Disney+. The platform could have been defined, until now, the sleeping giant of streaming.

Don’t get me wrong, its launch catalogue was impressive, but it felt more like a Disney Library than a place to find new content. A subscription to Disney+ was a way to secure all the titles you probably already watched but your kids (or you) might want to watch again. New content, though, did not exactly abound through 2020. One apparently worthwhile title – Mulan – was sold at a premium, to the subscribers’ outrage.

Then, during the Investor Day of December 2020, Disney shifted gears, announcing a load of new content, including a bunch of series set in the Star Wars universe, a new Indiana Jones movie (with Harrison Ford!), several reboots of loved Disney titles (Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Chip n Dale, Lion King, etc.), a truckload of Pixar and Marvel titles.

Star Wars The Acolyte a new series on Disney Plus

While the quantity alone is enough to keep Netflix up at night, what really matters here is that Disney knows the value of trust, having had parents as its target for so many years.

Disney is a trusted brand, and it knows trust is a facilitator, especially for families, the most rewarding audience. Not only the Disney brand works as a reassurance when browsing the catalogue, but every sub-brand works in the same way.

Spin-offs, reboots, prequels, adaptations. Disney+ gives you something new based on something you know. 

When a new Star Wars series comes up, you don’t need much more additional info to decide you want to watch it. It’s pretty automatic. It might be more or less convincing, but it won’t be terrible. You know what Star Wars means.

This makes browsing the Disney+ catalogue a more calming experience. There are so many things you want to watch, but you have enough information about them (their universe, characters, tone of voice, values) to make your choice easily.

And this might give Disney+ a deadly edge over Netflix.

No alarms and no surprises, please: the revenge of the familiar

Maybe it’s the pandemic, which hurt us all and made us crave for reassurance. Or maybe it’s the end of a cycle.

Endless choice, which once felt so exciting, has begun to make us dizzy, and we are now looking for simplicity and direction. Consider how Netflix is squeezing its IPs like Stranger Things and Narcos, or how one of its latest top shows, The Witcher, came from a book and a videogame. 

If 2021 will really mark the end of the streaming wars, it might also bring some maturity to their content. Netflix has been, so far, a dazzling lab of crazy experiments and discoveries (and we love it for that). It has failed, though, to create a consistent content brand.

As user experience is quickly leveling across platforms, content brand will be the key to differentiation. And Disney obviously seems to be ahead.

2 thoughts on “Disney+, Netflix and the Revenge of the Familiar

  1. Pasquale

    Have you watch The Queen’s Gambit? That is really netflix-icious as much as Stranger Things. I guess that Netflix has a brand needs a move to clearly state what’s Netflix’s and what’s not. All the Netflix originals go in the right direction, but there are still lots of contents licensed or bought somewhere else. Originals are the way to go, unless you haven’t got enough of them, like Apple TV+ 🙂

    1. Andrea Ciulu Post author

      I think Netflix is at its most Netflix-icious when it challenges the viewer’s assumptions with edgy and mildly uncomfortable content (The Queen’s Gambit, Russian Doll, MindHunter, the OA). The problem is – as you state – this feeling of challenge and excitement is not as uniform across Netflix’s catalogue as the feeling of safety is on Disney+. In other terms, it’s not a brand guarantee. Some content is challenging, some is boring, some is cheesy.

      At the same time, this positioning is a really ill fit for kids, which puts Netflix in a difficult position in the competition for families. You will agree that finding kids content on Netflix is sometimes difficult: you either gravitate towards external IPs (but that’s hardly unique) or find some weird production which might need some alerts.


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