Disney Plus: 5 unanswered questions about Netflix's streaming rival

Disney doled out a mass of information but somehow still managed to miss a few key points.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
5 min read

Marvel's The Avengers, its first big crossover movie in 2012, hasn't been confirmed for Disney Plus in the service's first year. 

Marvel Studios

Disney gave us a three-hour lesson, and it still wasn't enough. 

Last week, Disney threw back the curtain on Disney Plus, its streaming service to rival Netflix. At an hours-long investor presentation at its Buena Vista studios in California, Disney unleashed a tremendous amount of information about the service's programming, its app and how it fits into the larger Disney universe. In the US, Disney Plus will launch Nov. 12 and cost $7 a month, or $70 for an annual subscription. 

Ultimately, Disney Plus will become a global digital hub to stream all the family-friendly content (that is, everything without an R-rating) from Disney brands, including Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and 21st Century Fox. As Disney faces down growing competition from tech powerhouses like Netflix, Amazon and -- soon -- Apple, Disney Plus represents the entertainment giant's full-throated response: It's taking on digital upstarts at their own game. 

In the meantime, we still have some questions. 

It'd be unfair to say Disney raised more questions than it answered. (No, that'd be Apple.) Disney answered most of our biggest questions going into Thursday's event. But even as Disney showed us what the puzzle is supposed to look like when everything fits together, a few pieces are still missing. From a list of 20 questions we asked Disney on Friday following the presentation, these are some the biggest that remain unanswered. 

How long will the $7-a-month price persist?

During Thursday's presentation, Disney's chief financial officer, Christine M. McCarthy, hinted that Disney Plus pricing may rise as the service advances, calling the $7 monthly fee an "initial" price. But the company didn't characterize how long its initial price for Disney Plus would persist, nor did it specify the prices it would charge in other countries as it expands around the globe. 

Watch this: Everything we know about Disney Plus

But for guidance about how Disney is likely to approach pricing changes, Netflix is probably a good guide. Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger long ago indicated Netflix was the benchmark for pricing Disney's service. Back in 2017, he said that whatever the streaming service would cost, the price would undercut Netflix to reflect that the library of content would be limited compared with its bigger rival. 

And Netflix learned the hard way what sharp price hikes can do. In a pricing debacle in 2011, it essentially raised prices 60%, lost members in droves and saw its stock price tank. Since then, Netflix has become an expert at tapping its prices gently higher every couple years. Its latest increase, earlier this year, raised the price of its most popular plan in the US by a buck to $13 a month 

Netflix for years has said its subscribers largely accept these incremental price increases as the company loads the service with more content they want to watch. As Disney Plus ramps up its own catalog of programming, odds are it'll do the same. 

Will Disney Plus have every Marvel movie/Muppets show/[insert your favorite here]? 

At its investor day, Disney specified a lot of programming that you can count on at launch and within the service's first year. Disney Plus will have every Pixar movie available on day one, for example; the only exception is Toy Story 4, a film that will likely still be playing in some theaters. CNET has a comprehensive list of all the programs Disney confirmed in writing. 


Captain America: Civil War is another major Marvel title that's missing from Disney Plus confirmed library within the first year. 

Film Frame at Marvel

But there are some high-profile gaps in the confirmed content. The biggest is the catalog of Marvel movies. Disney Plus will have Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark Worlds available to stream at launch, and it will add at least eight more Marvel movies in the first year. But that still leaves a handful of Marvel films missing, including 2012's first mega-crossover film, Marvel's The Avengers. 

Even for movies that Disney produced and distributed itself, some remain locked up in licensing deals that will prevent Disney from adding them immediately. But the company hasn't gone into specifics about what high-profile titles are excluded from Disney Plus and why. 

Will each season of original series on Disney Plus be released all at once or week to week?

With Netflix's production slate churning out new series every week, it's easy to forget that its attitude -- let's drop all episodes of a season at once for fans to binge -- is still an outlier in the industry. Amazon and Hulu (the latter of which is now controlled by Disney) release their original streaming series week to week for most titles. And premium networks that now offer direct-to-consumer streaming subscriptions, like HBO, stick with releasing their programs in episodic morsels when they're broadcast. 

Disney didn't address its plan for releasing its Disney Plus original series, which will include Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian at launch and Marvel cinematic universe series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier during the first year. Given its background as a traditional network company with ABC, The Disney Channel and others, it has a legacy of releasing week to week. But with Netflix as its prime competitor, it may adopt the rival's' strategy to be more competitive. 

So far, it hasn't specified. 

How long after movies become available to rent or buy will you be able to stream them?

Throughout Thursday's presentation, Disney consistently said that its big-budget blockbuster movies would arrive on Disney Plus to stream after their "theatrical and home entertainment windows." That means movies like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker are going to finish their runs in theaters and have a sales period for DVD, Blu-ray and download purchase or rentals before being unlocked for Disney Plus subscribers. 

But Disney didn't clarify whether it would be noodling with how long its movies are available to rent or buy before they go to subscribers. 

The company did generalize this timing for one movie, Frozen 2, which hits theaters Nov. 22. Disney said Frozen 2 would be available to stream on Disney Plus in the summer of next year. That suggests Disney is sticking with its previous "windowing" timeline for subscription video on demand -- letting movies stream about seven to nine months after their theatrical release. 


Disney's Frozen 2 will be available to stream next summer after its November theatrical release.


How many people can stream Disney Plus at once? Can you pay for more simultaneous streams?

During its demo of the Disney Plus app, Disney called out a lot of standard features of streaming services -- profiles, downloads, parental controls and so on -- but it never commented on how many people can stream from a Disney Plus account at one time. 

Netflix addresses this issue with pricing tiers. Its cheapest plan only lets one person stream at a time, while its premium tier allows four simultaneous streams. (Netflix's most popular plan lands in the middle, letting two devices stream at once.)

Disney didn't address either of these concepts, neither the number of streams nor the availability of tiers to increase that number if you have a big family. And though Disney told us that it would offer content in 4K and HDR, it didn't specify how much, what titles and at what additional cost (if any).