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Disney Plus streaming service: Release date, price, shows and movies to expect

Disney is crafting is own rival to Netflix, where you'll be able to stream all things Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and more. Here's everything we know about Disney Plus.

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They beat Thanos. Can they beat Netflix?

Ryan Meinerding/Marvel Studios

Disney is betting big on its 2019 streaming service called Disney Plus, which is meant as a home base for all things Disney. It'll be the place to watch big-budget Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe films, as well as a host of original shows based on those theatrical franchises. 

Disney's gambit has been met with some major expectations. A Morgan Stanley analyst predicted Thursday that Disney Plus could have 13 million subscribers by the end of next year, and he projected the company could surpass 130 million total subscribers across all its online video services -- Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus -- worldwide by 2024. That puts it in the same ballpark as current-day Netflix. 

Much of the premium original programming planned for Disney Plus leans into the company's big-budget franchises like Marvel and Star Wars. Some shows -- like the live-action, big-budget The Mandalorian -- have completed filming and will be available at launch. Other Marvel spinoffs, like a show based on Avengers character Loki and WandaVision featuring Scarlet Witch and Vision, will debut in its second year. 

(CNET has a comprehensive list of all the titles Disney confirmed will be on its streaming service.)   

Avengers: Endgame -- the blockbuster behemoth that has surpassed a record $2 billion box-office haul -- will be available to stream on Disney Plus starting Dec. 11.

But the availability of titles down the road is complicated by the complexity of video licensing. For example, Disney's movies released in 2016, 2017 and 2018 -- including huge hits like Black Panther, Finding Dory and Star Wars: The Last Jedi -- will be removed from Disney Plus temporarily in 2026 so they can return to Netflix. (Disney declined to comment on those licensing matters.)

Still, Disney's biggest reveal yet about its streaming service was its price: Disney Plus will cost $7 a month, half the price of HBO Now and a big discount to Netflix.

(Read: Disney Plus en español.)

So is the Disney Plus streaming service worth paying for? The details that we know so far are below, but basically: If you love Star Wars or Marvel movies or you have kids, you may find yourself considering yet another subscription before the year is out.

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What's the Disney streaming service?

The Disney Plus streaming service will be a competitor to video streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Now and -- later this year -- Apple TV Plus. It's a paid subscription without any advertising, and it gives customers access a vast library of Disney's and Fox's legacy content as well as new, exclusive TV shows, movies and documentaries. 

Disney wants its other streaming services -- Hulu and sports-focused ESPN Plus -- to run on the same tech platform so you can subscribe to them with the same password and credit card info. Disney plans for all three to be individual subscriptions, but it said it's likely to bundle them at a discount. 

Hulu will be where Disney streams more adult-oriented fare. For example, Hulu is where a new Marvel collection of grown-up animated series will stream, and it's likely where Deadpool-like content will live now that Disney owns Fox. Hulu will continue to stream content from three of the broadcast networks and its own original series, like The Handmaid's Tale and Castle Rock. (ESPN Plus will, clearly, focus on sports.)

And Disney is now able to have full control over Hulu's direction. Hulu was jointly owned by four parent companies as recently as March, but this week Disney announced it will buy the rest of Hulu it didn't already own. That will give Disney more flexibility to offer discounts for people who bundle Disney Plus with Hulu or ESPN Plus. 

Disney Plus will include all of Disney's family-friendly and much of its mass-audience fare. It'll have content from Disney proper, Marvel, Lucasfilm (so, Star Wars), Pixar and National Geographic. And, outside those traditional categories, it'll also offer all 30 seasons of The Simpsons, a new feather in its cap from the Fox takeover. 

When's the release date? 

Disney Plus will launch on Nov. 12 in the US.

The timing is strategically smart. For one, Disney Plus can piggyback on the marketing for all of Disney's big-budget films being released for the holiday season -- Frozen 2 hits theaters Nov. 22 and Star Wars: Episode IX will be released Dec. 20. 

But Netflix has also shown that the last couple of months of the year is when it tends to get some of its biggest viewership. Bird Box, the movie it says was viewed by more than 80 million accounts in its first month of release, came out Dec. 21. Bright, its fantasy crime flick starring Will Smith, was the company's most-viewed film before Bird Box. It was released Dec. 13. 

Globally, Disney plans a progressive rollout worldwide over two years. The company provided a generalized timeline for when it will launch in the world's major regions, but it didn't pinpoint any other specific launch dates except for that in the US. 

So, for example, Disney Plus will launch in North America -- which presumably includes Canada -- during the last three months of this year, but we don't know exactly when the Canadian service will be live. It's unlikely the Canadian launch would precede the Nov. 12 launch date in the US.

In addition, Disney Plus is slated to roll out in:

  • Western Europe over the course of six months between October this year and March of next year
  • Eastern Europe over the course of a year starting as early as October 2020
  • Latin America over the course of three months starting as early as October 2020
  • Asia Pacific over the course of two years starting as early as October this year

How much will it cost?

Disney said the service will cost $7 a month, or $70 a year. Its price undercuts Netflix's $13 monthly fee for its most popular plan in the US, which lets you stream to two different devices simultaneously in high definition. 

Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine M. McCarthy hinted Disney Plus pricing may rise as the service advances, calling the $7-a-month fee an "initial" price. The company also said it's likely to bundle Disney Plus with Hulu and ESPN Plus, offering a discount if you subscribe to two or three of its streaming options.

Way back in 2017, Iger noted that the price would reflect the "fact that it will have substantially less volume" than prime competitor Netflix. As Disney has time to funnel more exclusives and originals into Disney Plus, it's a good bet the company will start tapping its price incrementally higher. 

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The Clone Wars is getting a new season, exclusively on Disney's upcoming streaming service.

Disney/Screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

How can I stream it?

Disney Plus will support streaming to phones, tablets, computers, connected TVs and streaming media boxes, the company said. Disney specifically called out support for Roku TVs and the Playstation 4. Its presentation slides included photos of Chromecast, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, but the company hasn't specifically confirmed those devices yet. Generally speaking, though, Disney's goal is to have wide device support for Disney Plus by the service's November launch. 

Disney told CNET that Disney Plus will be able to stream 4K and HDR content, but it hasn't specified which titles, how much or whether those higher-quality formats will cost extra. It also hasn't specified how many simultaneous streams are allowed on a single account. 

Shows and movies: What will I be able to watch?

Disney Plus will include content from the Disney brand itself, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and National Geographic. It'll also integrate programming from Fox -- all 30 seasons of The Simpsons will be on Disney Plus starting on day one, and more titles like The Sound of MusicThe Princess Bride and Malcolm in the Middle will join it in the first year.

Disney Plus will be the only place you can stream all of Disney's theatrically released movies starting with Captain Marvel at launch and the rest of its 2019 slate later on. Frozen 2, for example, will be streamable on the service next summer after its theatrical release in November. Disney Plus will also house the entire film libraries of Pixar, Star Wars and its Signature Series and Disney Vault lines of classic hand-drawn animated movies. (Think Bambi, The Lion King, Snow White and so on.)

And of course, the company is developing a big slate of original, exclusive shows and movies for the service.

Major originals include The Mandalorian, a big-budget series starring Pedro Pascal about a bounty-hunting gunfighter that takes place five years after the events in The Return of the Jedi. A Star Wars prequel series based on Rogue One will star Diego Luna, who played Cassian Andor in the original movie. 

And Disney has three live-action series drawing the stars of its blockbuster Avengers movies into their own shows: a Loki series featuring Tom Hiddleston; The Falcon and The Winter Soldier with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, and WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen in her role of Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany reprising The Vision.

Disney Plus will have original documentaries, reality shows, competition series, behind-the-scenes features, nature and adventure titles, animated programming -- the list goes on. It may also be the place that Disney premieres live-action short films that it's creating in its Launchpad incubator program designed to elevate opportunities for filmmakers from underrepresented groups. 

Even though all of Disney's movies will stream exclusively on Disney Plus, the company doesn't plan to debut any of its big-budget motion pictures on the service. That's what's known as a day-and-date approach, which releases most of its films on big screens and on its streaming service at the same time, and it was Netflix's strategy for years. Disney, however, plans for all its theatrical films like Star Wars and Marvel to run their course in theaters and home video before making them available with a digital subscription. 

CNET also has a comprehensive list of all the shows and movies expected on Disney Plus

How will this affect Disney stuff on Netflix?

Disney will mostly disappear from Netflix by late 2019 (with a caveat).

Since 2016, Netflix has been the first place to watch Disney's movies with a subscription. That deal meant Netflix was the go-to place for the biggest US blockbusters of the last three years. The top two movies of 2017 and the top three movies of 2016 and 2018 were all from Disney, and Netflix has been the place to binge them all. 

But Disney decided against renewing that Netflix deal as it plotted its own competitor. Starting with Disney's 2019 slate of movies, all those films are destined for Disney Plus. That means Captain Marvel, the first movie Disney released theatrically in 2019, will be the first movie Netflix misses out on. It also means that Mary Poppins Returns should be the final Disney movie that will have some type of release window on Netflix.

But licensing is complicated, and one report indicates Disney will return those movies to Netflix -- and remove them from Disney Plus -- temporarily starting in 2026. It affects movies released between January 2016 and December 2018, which includes a Marvel titles like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnorak, Black Panther and Avengers:Infinity War; Star Wars hits like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Last Jedi; and Pixar staples like Finding Dory, Coco and The Incredibles 2. It also touches family favorites like Moana and the live action Beauty and the Beast. 

One consideration: Disney Plus won't lose these titles until six years after the service launches. At that point, Disney Plus will have built a large permanent library of original content, and it will continue to funnel all its newest releases to Disney Plus and nowhere else. Presumably, that will take some of the sting out of losing these films for a limited time. 

Netflix's Marvel Defenders shows are complicated too. Netflix has put out five original series based on Defenders characters in partnership with Disney. In 2018, Netflix canceled three of them: Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Then in 2019, Netflix canceled the last two: The Punisher and Jessica Jones. Kevin Mayer, the Disney executive in charge of Disney Plus, has said Disney Plus could possibly revive the canceled shows. But the terms of their original deal could restrict Disney Plus from any revivals until 2020, according to a report. 

A third, and now final, season of Jessica Jones is still set to arrive on Netflix sometime in 2019. But after that, all we know about the future of these characters is Marvel Television chief Jeph Loeb teasing fans that the characters will continue in some form. But the only thing for sure about that form right now: It won't involve Netflix.

What shows and movies do you want to appear on Disney's streaming service? Pop them into the comments section and we'll keep updating this post with more information as it becomes available.

Originally published Aug. 27, 2018, and updated as new information is revealed.