Disney Plus: 7 questions we want answered at today's unveiling

Disney is rounding up investors, reporters and analysts for a first look into its much-anticipated Netflix rival, Disney Plus. Here's what we want to know.

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.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
7 min read
Evangeline Lilly walks the red carpet at Marvel's premiere of Ant-Man and The Wasp

Evangeline Lilly walks the red carpet at Marvel's premiere of Ant-Man and The Wasp.

Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Disney is at home on red carpets, but today will be the first time it lavishes the star treatment on a streaming service.

The entertainment giant's two-hour-plus event Thursday will be a deep dive into its plans for Disney Plus, its answer to the Netflix juggernaut. CEO Bob Iger has said Disney Plus is the company's "biggest priority" for 2019 -- and, for perspective, that's coming the same year Disney closed a $71.3 billion takeover of 21st Century Fox and will premiere Avengers: Endgame, what some speculate is the most expensive movie ever made.

The push comes at a time when seemingly every major media property, and some tech giants, are ramping up their own streaming options as consumers increasingly look for alternatives to traditional cable TV. NBCUniversal and HBO owner WarnerMedia are both building their own streaming services, while Apple is pouring an estimated $2 billion into original shows for its forthcoming service, Apple TV Plus.

And of course, there's Netflix, with nearly 140 million paying members worldwide and an estimated $12 billion budget for content this year.

Thursday's event will serve as Disney Plus' unveiling to the world, and it should go a long way toward filling in the blanks on how Disney will take on Netflix at its own game.

We already have a broad sketch of Disney Plus. We know the service will be built and organized around five of Disney's big properties -- Disney proper, Marvel, Lucasfilm (so: Star Wars), Pixar and National Geographic. We know that it will be the only place to stream all of Disney's big-budget films after they've run in theaters.


The original shows planned for Disney Plus include a Rogue One prequel that stars Diego Luna reprising his role as Cassian Andor. 


And we know there's a long (and growing) list of exclusive originals in the pipeline, including three Marvel TV series spinning directly off the blockbuster Avengers film universe and two Star Wars programs piggybacking on the revived popularity of the space epic.

But major questions still hang over Disney Plus. Disney's event, which is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. PT and will be livestreamed, should give us some answers. These are the biggest ones we want to hear.

How much will it cost?

Price is the biggest X factor about Disney Plus.

As recently as January, Iger said even Disney itself wasn't certain what it would charge, noting in an interview that pricing was still undecided internally. But in some of his earliest characterizations of the service, Disney indicated it would price its service less than Netflix. As far back as November 2017, Iger said that its price must reflect that Disney's offering "will have substantially less volume" of content than its bigger rival.

Watch this: How much would you spend on Disney Plus?

Netflix's most popular plan, which lets you stream to two different devices simultaneously in high definition, just got a hike to $13 a month in the US. So expect Disney Plus to be priced below that.

Other key pricing details we want to know: Whether Disney will have pricing tiers along the lines of Netflix, which charges you more for higher-definition video and more simultaneous streams, and whether Disney will offer discounts if you bundle Disney Plus with Hulu or ESPN Plus.

Will Disney Plus offer offline downloads?

Netflix long resisted the concept that it should offer downloads to watch shows and movies offline, predicting that connectivity would progress so much that offline access would be moot. That made downloads a rare way smaller competitors could distinguish themselves from their big rival. When Netflix finally relented in 2016, the move made downloads a benchmark for any competitive streaming service.


Toy Story 4 will be the first new release from Pixar available to stream on Disney Plus. 


The ability to download for offline viewing may be particularly meaningful for a segment of prospective customers: parents. Disney Plus is being pitched as a hub for family-friendly entertainment. With Disney's animated movies and Pixar flicks destined to live there, people with kids are going to be weighing whether they should buy a copy of Frozen II or Toy Story 4, or instead just sign up for Disney Plus and get everything else with it. But kids want to watch their favorite movies ad nauseam, especially when desperate parents want to keep them placated on the go.

Including downloads with Disney Plus could make the service more enticing to parents, but it could pressure Disney's business selling DVDs and iTunes-style downloads.

Are these original shows going to be worth watching?

Even without laying eyes on the programs, Disney isn't exactly a slouch at producing hit content. Besides 80 years of experience, the marquee originals on Disney Plus lean hard into the blockbusters that have made Disney the dominant studio at the box office for the past three years. Building off its repertoire of characters, actors and filmmakers that have already banked billions in theatrical ticket sales means Disney doesn't need to tinker much with its formula to have a good shot at some gotta-see-it Disney Plus content.

If Disney's other shareholder-focused meetings are any guide, the company can't resist showing off early peeks at its programming. That means we may get our first glimpses of some of these exclusive original shows Thursday.

But note: Disney won't livestream any trailers, teasers or behind-the-scenes footage. The livestream will be suspended during those portions, and the only people who will get to see it are those in the room.

How soon after a blockbuster hits theaters will I be able to stream it?

For the last three years, Netflix had top-dollar deal with Disney to be the first place to watch Disney's feature films via a subscription. During this deal, Disney movies took about seven or eight months to make it onto Netflix. But Disney walked away from the partnership at the end of last year so that Disney Plus could be the one source to stream all of its new movies, starting with Captain Marvel.


Original shows on Disney Plus will leverage unexplored storylines from some of its blockbuster movies, like a series focused on Loki and another featuring Scarlet Witch from its Marvel franchise. 

Screenshot by Gonzalo Jiménez/CNET

Iger has already said Disney isn't going to release its big-budget movies on Disney Plus the same day they're in theaters, which has been Netflix's attitude. But the CEO has said that he's open to testing different lengths of time before a movie is available to stream, what's known as a windowing.

Theatrical releases are a big deal for Disney, and if Disney Plus streamed any movies within their first three months in theaters, Disney would infuriate cinema chains. It won't go there.

But could it gamble on losing some DVD, download or rental sales by making its movies streamable sooner than eight months after they're released? If it did, it could affect Hollywood's premises about windowing across the industry.

Will profiles keep my kids'/roommates'/spouse's bad taste out of my sight?  

A chief annoyance for anyone who shares a streaming service with other people in a household (or... people outside your household) is when somebody else's bizarre viewing habits start screwing up your recommendations.

Disney may opt for its app experience to be totally curated, without any algorithmic suggestions. But that would make it an outlier among its competitors; almost all its rivals try to make it easy for you to find things you want to watch by surfacing titles it believes are most relevant to you.

Should Disney Plus opt for personalized recommendations, profiles take on heightened importance because of -- again -- its family-friendly bent. Profiles are a first line of defense for parents who want to keep PG-13 or mature content from greeting their young kids when they open the app. For example, a dad or mom may want to know as soon as Avengers: Endgame is available to stream, but they probably don't want it to be the first thing their preschooler can watch with a single tap. 

Including profiles would be a first sign that Disney is paying attention to the user experience of its service beyond just its programming.

What's the future of Hulu?

Disney became the majority owner of Hulu earlier this year when it completed its takeover of Fox. Though Comcast and WarnerMedia still hold 40% between them, it's the first time that Hulu has one stakeholder with an outsized influence over its fate.

Disney has said that Hulu would be something of an edgier companion subscription. While Marvel movies are destined for Disney Plus, a collection of adult-oriented Marvel cartoon series are going to live on Hulu, for example.

But that could end up being confusing to consumers. Hulu licenses and offers plenty of kids and family programming, like Curious George and broadcast series like Black-ish. Will Disney shift all that over to Disney Plus?

Will this be worth canceling my Netflix subscription?

As much as people like to speculate about a "Netflix killer," this is a question that probably won't become clear until Disney Plus launches. Since there'll be virtually zero overlap between Netflix's catalog and Disney Plus, it's hard to see why Disney Plus will spur scores of Netflix subscribers to forsake Stranger Things and Bird Box. But for the rare member who only really cares about Disney's movies on Netflix, then sure, canceling Netflix seems like a logical outcome. 

The reality for most consumers will probably be more complicated.

"Subscription fatigue" is real. The average US consumer subscribes to three streaming video services, but nearly half of people say they feel frustrated by the rising number of subscriptions they need to watch what they want, according to market advisory firm Deloitte. With Netflix the biggest subscription streaming video service in the world, it tends be the one membership people are least likely to cancel. That leaves smaller rivals and new entrants, like Disney Plus, scrapping with each other to win No. 2 or 3 status on your priority list. 

Disney Plus would need to have some showstopping announcements Thursday to make it a distinct threat to Netflix before it even launches. But if anyone knows how to pull off a dramatic ending, it's Disney.