Disney+ Star Launch Will Boost Choice for Adults' "Me Time," Executive Says

Jan Koeppen
Courtesy of Walt Disney Co.

Jan Koeppen

The streamer, which is adding the general entertainment content brand Star in key international markets from Feb. 23, is also planning to unveil U.K. originals soon, including dramas, comedies and unscripted shows.

Walt Disney streamer Disney+, which ended 2020 with nearly 95 million subscribers worldwide, launched in Europe in late March 2020 where it will next week add general entertainment content brand Star, which one top executive says will bring more choice for parents' "me time."

Star, which uses the name of the Indian TV giant Disney acquired when it bought large parts of 21st Century Fox and will debut in Europe and some other international markets on Feb. 23, will offer exclusive and non-exclusive content from ABC Studios, Fox Television, FX and 20th Century Studios and become the six content brand within Disney+ in the markets it reaches (in addition to Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars/Lucasfilm, and National Geograhic). The strategy for Star has drawn comparisons to the focus of Hulu in the U.S.

"Star will be an integral part of Disney+, making it bigger, bolder and even more exciting," Jan Koeppen, president of The Walt Disney Co. Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) said when the extension was announced.

During a virtual press event on Wednesday, Koeppen was asked why now was a good time to launch a new brand like Star. "We are constantly asking ourselves how we can make a great product, which Disney+ is, even better," he explained. And he shared key findings of subscriber surveys. "They all said we love choice. And the adults among them had a term that they often used. 'We would love to have even more choice' for what they call 'me-time,' the time when the kids have gone to bed. … That is really where Star comes in."

Koeppen and his team emphasized that the streamer was rolling out enhanced parental controls and content ratings that will allow users to set access to the service, with ratings ranging from "0-plus" to "18-plus."

Koeppen shared how he and his two sons enjoy "Mando nights" to watch Disney+ hit original The Mandalorian together, saying Star will become another brand within the streamer, whose success so far he attributed to its "incredible quality of the content." While the interface and marketing are also important, "in the end it's the content" that counts to subscribers.

Unveiled last year, Star will become a new brand hub within Disney+ in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few other markets, with Disney+ getting a price hike in return for the content infusion. In continental Europe, for example, the price will rise from 6.99 euros per month to 8.99 euros; in the U.K., it will go up from £5.99 to £7.99, or to £77.90 for an annual subscription. Current subscribers' prices are locked in for six months.

In Latin America, Star will become a standalone streaming service, also featuring live sports, under the moniker Star+ that will launch in June.

Will sports also come to the streaming platform in Europe any time soon? "We currently have no plans to have live sporting events on Disney+ … here in Europe," Koeppen said on Wednesday.

Star will not be available  in the U.S., where Disney already operates general entertainment streamer Hulu.

On Tuesday, Disney+ had announced its first slate of European originals, including projects for Star. The 10 originals span the genres drama, comedy and documentary and hail from France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Creators and producers include the likes of Juliette Howell (Brexit: The Uncivil War), Stephen Butchard (Baghdad Central), Quoc Dang Tran (Marianne) and Jörg Winger (Deutschland 83).

The originals take Disney a fifth of the way to hitting its target of commissioning 50 productions on the continent by 2024, a goal announced during the Hollywood giant's investor day in December. Disney+ is also readying a slate of U.K. originals.

"These first 10 projects embody our ambitious vision for local production," said Disney EMEA's vp of original content, Liam Keelan, on Tuesday. "Our initial European offering underscores Disney’s regional commitment to outstanding and diverse talent, reflecting our desire to work with the very best storytellers in the industry."

On Wednesday, he told reporters that U.K. originals were close to being unveiled, saying the company was "on the cusp, but not quite ready to announce" any titles. But he said the U.K. originals would also come in a range of genres, including drama and comedy, along with "a couple of unscripted shows."

Asked about the target of 50 originals, Keelan said that was "no small feat, a bit of pressure there," but also highlighted that the focus was on quality and "shows that feel different" rather than quantity.

And he argued: "The production community has really embraced what we are trying to do with this service."

Luke Bradley-Jones, senior vp, direct-to-consumer and general manager, Disney+ EMEA, said the mix of library shows on Star, and Disney+ more broadly, differs depending on what rights the company has in specific markets, but added: "The intent is that Disney+ becomes the exclusive streaming home for all of these shows over time." For example, 24 is already exclusive to Disney+, he said, with others, such as Prison Break and Desperate Housewives, set to become SVOD exclusives on Disney+ later this year.

How about The Golden Girls?, asked one reporter. The Disney executives said the show would come to Disney+ in Europe some time this summer.

The comments came amid expectations of industry observers that Disney would increasingly save content for its own streamer instead of licensing it to TV networks or other streamers in international markets.

Among the Star content offerings that executives highlighted during Wednesday's event were the likes of upcoming Hulu series Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez, and the upcoming FX on Hulu show The Old Man.

They also touted the addition of such established and library hit shows as Lost, ScandalUgly Betty, Modern Family, Atlanta and Sons of Anarchy, along with films like Pretty Woman, Deadpool 2 and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

All in all, Star promises "thousands of hours of quality TV series and movies."

One analyst earlier this week predicted that Disney+ would overtake streaming video powerhouse Netflix in terms of global subscribers in 2026.