Disney announces new Marvel and Star Wars content
With Star Wars spin-offs and Marvel mayhem, Isaac Bettridge analyses what the latest Disney+ announcement means for the entertainment industry
Hot off the heels of the blockbuster success of The Mandalorian, Disney used an investor meeting in December to announce a new wave of programming. Coming to its streaming service, Disney+, the company’s announcement focussed mainly around its two most popular brands: Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The announcement came after the service experienced massive subscriber growth during 2020, reaching its predetermined 2024 goal of 70 to 90 million subscribers by November of last year. This reflects a sea change in the entertainment industry. As both the ongoing realities of the pandemic and the battle for subscribers in the so-called “streaming wars” continue, we are likely to see companies shifting more and more of their content online.
Disney’s announcements make clear their strategy of relying on brand recognition and loyalty to attract viewers. Their acquisitions of companies such as Lucasfilm, Marvel and 20th Century Fox have given them access to a vast number of intellectual properties to mine for content. Of these, Star Wars was the one given the most airtime: three Mandalorian spin-offs (Ahsoka, The Book of Boba Fett and Rangers of the New Republic) were announced last month, alongside other series focusing on characters such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lando Calrissian and Cassian Andor from Rogue One. There will also be original programming such as the Sith-focused series The Acolyte and a Rogue Squadron film from Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.
Some see this deluge of content as somewhat disrespectful to these beloved stories
Ahead of the January debut of WandaVision, the first Disney+ Marvel series, a whole host of superhero content was also featured in the announcement. While some of this will focus on established characters such as Loki, Hawkeye and Secret Invasion (starring Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury), others will introduce new characters such as Ms Marvel, She-Hulk, Moon Knight and Ironheart. It’s worth noting that many of these projects (such as the Boba Fett, Obi-Wan and Hawkeye series) were originally going to be theatrically released films. We can point to a multitude of factors for their move online. The most obvious culprit is the pandemic, but the box office underperformance of 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, also likely convinced the higher-ups that a pivot to streaming was both economical and provided greater opportunities for business growth.
These announcements have generated effusive excitement from many fans but also engendered a degree of apprehension and fatigue. Some see this deluge of content as somewhat disrespectful to these beloved stories, worrying that overexposure will make them less interesting. Others are wary of franchises’ domination over big-budget television and film, warning of the stifling of creativity and the further entrenchment of mega-corporation control over mass media.
Regardless, the actual outcome of this strategy will be much less to do with people’s political beliefs and more to do with the changing nature of the entertainment industry. Will streaming continue to grow unabated? Will the pandemic continue to rage, or will mass-scale vaccination programs make theatrical releases economically viable again, possibly diminishing the appetite for at-home streaming content? Will anti-trust lawsuits bubbling away in Europe and potentially the US ever come to fruition, damaging Disney’s plans for expansion? These things are all unknown. What seems certain, however, is that Disney’s determination to conquer the entire entertainment industry remains as strong as ever.