In just a year, Disney+ has already become one of the world's most popular streaming services, having already signed up nearly 100 million subscribers. Today, in Europe, Canada and New Zealand, it's launching Star, a new sub-channel to house Disney's "grown up" content. Star will amalgamate titles from Disney, ABC and 20th Century Fox's back catalogs, as well as originals from Hulu that haven't come across the pond, in one easy-to-find place. And, since it's launching today, here's what to expect, and what this all means.
What is Star?
Disney+ has "channels" for each of its content divisions, from Marvel and Star Wars to Pixar and National Geographic. Star has been chosen as the new umbrella name to cover the shows Disney owns that aren't aimed toward kids.
What sort of material will Star host?
At launch, Star in Europe will host around 75 TV series and 280 movies, as well as four "Star Originals." The TV series Disney is using to promote the launch include Modern Family, Lost, 24, Family Guy and Atlanta. On the film-side, meanwhile, you'll get titles like Deadpool 2, The Devil Wears Prada, The Favorite and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Deeper into the archive you'll find Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Bones, Scrubs and Scandal among other entries. On the movie-side, there are big hits like Independence Day nestled side-by-side with, uh, Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise.
In the near future, the complete Golden Girls, The Beach, Can You Ever Forgive Me and Taken will be arriving on the platform. As well as Logan and X-Men: First Class, which will remain bundled inside Star, rather than under the main Marvel umbrella.
And what about the exclusives?
Star will be the exclusive home of Big Sky, the ABC crime drama that's currently running in the US. Love, Victor, a series set in the world of Love, Simon, which premiered on Hulu last year, much like Helstrom, the already-canceled Marvel series. Rounding out the quartet is another Hulu original, Solar Opposites, created by Rick and Morty's Justin Roiland and Mike McMahan, who created Star Trek: Lower Decks.
What about the technical stuff?
Disney+ has a flat fee, for which you can register seven active profiles, with four streams running simultaneously. Content will be delivered in SD, HD or UHD/4K, and up to 10 devices can store "unlimited" quantities of material. You also get support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, plus GroupWatch - common across all of Disney+ - letting you watch a show in a group through the internet.
How will adults keep innocent eyes away from all that naughty language and violence?
The first time users open Disney+ after today, they'll see a pop-up directing them to the parental controls. They can also set different age ratings for specific profiles, through selecting content suitable for 6, 9, 12, 14, 16 and 18-year-olds. Each profile can also be PIN-protected, and a special kid-safe mode can be activated for the Under 7s.
Isn't it odd that Disney chose to call it Star instead of Hulu?
Yes and no. In the US, Disney's increasingly-vast pile of material is split three ways: Disney+ for the kids, Hulu for the grown-ups, and ESPN+ for sports. US customers can pay for any of those services separately, or subscribe to the Disney+ bundle and get all three. But it's opted not to copy that model for the rest of the world, instead leveraging the Star brand. Last summer, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that there would be no point using Hulu, since it has "no brand awareness outside the US."
Star, meanwhile, began life as Star India, which Rupert Murdoch's 20th Century Fox bought a stake back in 1992. When Disney bought Fox, it took control of the wide variety of Star branded properties, including Hotstar, the Indian streaming platform. Since Star is already known in several other parts of the world, it makes sense not to waste that awareness.
(A cynic might add that, since Disney owns Star outright but won't own Hulu outright for another couple of years, it makes sense not to promote a brand currently co-owned by Comcast.)
What does this mean for the streaming landscape more generally?
It's likely that Disney will look to swell the ranks of its own streaming library at the expense of its rivals. The first-runs of shows will probably still be sold to local broadcasters across the globe but the treasure-trove of archive material will remain Disney's. Shows like the X-Files, Prison Break and Glee will disappear from rival outlets when those licenses expire.
More importantly, there's a surprising amount of value in these older shows, more than anyone may have suspected. Earlier this year, ratings company Neilsen said that, throughout the pandemic, people turned to familiar network shows for comfort. Grey's Anatomy was the second most watched show of 2020, with people streaming more than 657 million hours of the hospital melodrama.
Does it have any limitations right now?
The content library is, for now, missing a few obvious entries such as the first Die Hard movie, while happily talking up the sequel. And many of the newer seasons of TV shows are missing from the list, such as with Modern Family and The X-Files. In the former's case, only the first eight seasons are available, out of a total of 11, in the latter you'll get the first nine out of 11 seasons of alien/conspiracy-based nonsense. This will likely improve over time, but it's worth saying that you can't binge all of some of the TV and movie series on the platform yet.