Disney+ is about to get a lot more explicit.
So much so that Disney president Bob Iger recently told a group of Wall Street analysts that parents need to “prepare” for a coming infusion of content that’s, well, a long way from Mickey Mouse.
Here’s what’s happening:
In early November, Disney completed its buyout of Hulu from Comcast, purchasing the last 33% of that streaming service for an eye-popping $8.6 billion. And the company is wasting no time fully fusing Disney+ and Hulu. In December, the company will begin beta testing a new streaming hybrid that combines the content from Disney+ and Hulu completely on one seamless app, according to the industry publication Deadline. The formal rollout of the new product is anticipated in March.
Most industry prognosticators see the expanding scope of Disney’s streaming content as a good thing, offering consumers a growing menu of entertainment options that caters not only to children, but to adults as well.
Though Disney+ has quietly shoehorned a handful of R-rated Marvel properties into its lineup (Deadpool, Deadpool 2 and Logan), the company’s value proposition to consumers has always focused on Disney’s family-focused brand equity. And Iger knows it. Now, Disney+’s content menu will exist side by side (one supposes) with far racier fare. I’m talking about shows such as The Bisexual, The L Word, Mistresses, Harlots and American Horror Story, among others. These are all M-rated shows with steamy, profane or violent content.
So Iger told investors, quite bluntly, that parents need to get ready: “We are basically putting it in beta so that we can prepare parents, largely, to basically implement parental controls, because you’ll be able to access Hulu programming on the same app.”
We certainly recognize the importance of parental controls across all streaming platforms and devices. (And you can find our tutorials of setting them up for Disney+, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime here.)
That said, I can’t help but wonder if Iger is taking another wrong step here.
Disney, of course, has been reeling like mid-fight Rocky Balboa lately, and its plummeting stock prices reflect the fact that it’s been taking one metaphorical body blow after another. Disney+ has been forced to hike prices significantly and even add a cheaper advertising tier as the service continues hemorrhage cash. Linear TV properties (ABC, the Disney Channel, FX, ESPN and National Geographic) have all been struggling. Marvel and Star Wars properties have underperformed, both on the big screen and streaming. And the company’s theme parks have suffered downturns in the U.S. as well.
Iger’s desperate to change the narrative, to recoup the billions sunk into Disney+. But is adding raunchy sexual content to the Disney+ brand the way to do that, especially when so many have already walked away from the brand as it has veered increasingly into progressive activism in the last couple of years?
I don’t think it is. Disney’s value proposition, to borrow a business term, has always been providing wholesome entertainment that families can trust. Now, it’s reasonable to ask what separates Disney+ from, say, HBO, Netflix or Amazon. At this point, I’d say, well, nothing.
Maybe Disney sees that as a good thing. The market seems to, as stock prices have bounced off historic lows in the last week or so. But I think Iger and Co. are doubling down on the same kind of miscalculation that’s driven Disney’s core audience away. They’ve forgotten that Disney was once special. Different. Trusted.
There’s nothing special about Disney anymore. Nothing different. Nothing trustworthy. Just another media behemoth aiming images and messages at young minds and hearts that even Bob Iger admits parents will want to filter out.
Parents need to prepare? Indeed.