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11.18.19

What the Launch of Disney+ Can Teach You About Content Strategy

by Matt Herron

Disney+, The Walt Disney Company’s long-awaited streaming service, has landed. If we go by the numbers, the launch was an outrageous success. Despite a few hiccups, Disney+ gained over 10 million subscribers on the first day, the app was downloaded 3.2 million times—and we can only expect them to gain traction from here.

Disney is a masterful media company, one that has been a household name for much of their almost hundred-year history. There’s a lot to be learned from an iconic brand as successful as Disney—especially when it comes to content strategy, which is what I do here at T3.

Competitor streaming services like Netflix and HBO are eyeballing their new competition. Needless to say, they have their work cut out for them. Disney owns possibly the most valuable library of content, ever. Not only their own Disney movies and made-for-television content produced for the Disney Channel, but also IP they’ve acquired over the last fifteen years: Pixar in 2006, Marvel in 2009, Lucasfilm (Star Wars) in 2012 and, most recently, Fox in 2019 (National Geographic, Fox Film and much more).

This powerhouse of content is on full display in the Disney+ dashboard.


(Source: Disney+)

Featured First

The first thing anyone who downloads and logs into the new Disney+ app will notice is the huge banner right at the top—in this case for The Mandalorian, an original Star Wars TV series that Disney produced and has been marketing specifically to promote the launch of Disney+.

The banner is a carousel (or “slider” as it’s often called) that shows you a preview of more content on either side. This allows Disney to feature multiple properties without distracting from what’s currently on screen, giving them a space to curate new or noteworthy content they wish to highlight.

As Netflix users know, if it’s not featured it might as well not exist. This space is vital for promotions, and gives Disney+’s content curators great capability when it comes to advertising their own content and driving views and engagement that move the needle.

Content Pillars

The next thing you see below the featured content carousel is a series of five boxes, each featuring one of their brands.

As a content strategist, I would call these boxes “Content Pillars.” Content pillars are the most important content, often organized by theme; they’re called pillars because they hold up your brand. In this case, a user can choose to dive into a pillar and see all the content that pillar supports.

It’s no surprise that Disney+ chose those five IPs to be their pillars—it follows the historical acquisition strategy we outlined briefly above (all their major acquisitions are featured here). These logos are recognizable, beloved by fans, and certainly helped contribute to the 10 million users they gained on day one.

The Greatest Hits

Below the logos, you’ll find a number of very familiar rows of categorized, curated content. I call this section “The Greatest Hits” because it starts with original content, moves into a “Recommended for You” category (presumably driven by an algorithm that reads your watch history), and moves beyond that into hit movies and other popular categories.

This format is going to be familiar to users of Netflix, Hulu, and other popular streaming services. It provides users multiple ways in by grouping content by categories they are likely to be looking for. And again, it allows Disney+ to curate content and promote whatever film or TV show they wish to highlight.

•••

These three patterns are something I use often in my content strategy work. We advise brands to curate content in featured spaces in order to drive engagement; identify and use content pillars strategically; don’t forget the greatest hits! Whether your content is presented in a website, a magazine, or a streaming service, these tools will give users a familiar pattern to consume your content.

Finally, a few takeaways for brands or the content strategists that work for them.

1. Pick Your Content Pillars Wisely

Give your content pillars deep thought, and use them strategically. It’s not a coincidence that Disney+’s content pillars line up perfectly with the IP they’ve acquired since 2006—they went after those franchises with intentionality. We’re seeing the fruits of that labor come to life here.

Do you know what your content pillars are? How will you use them to drive engagement?

2. Give Users Multiple Ways In

We haven’t yet moved beyond the dashboard of Disney+, and already the user has multiple ways into the content—they can check out the featured stuff at the top, dive into a franchise with a single click, or check out the browse categories below

Beyond the dashboard, the main menu also offers multiple ways in—if you go to “Movies”, “Series” or “Originals”, you can then filter by genre to home in on what you’re looking for.


(Source: Disney+)

3. Create the Content Before  You Commit

Finally—and I cannot emphasize this enough—when it comes to successfully launching any content platform, you must create the content before you commit!

This does not mean “jump now, and we’ll worry about producing the content on the way down.”

Nor does this mean “start small and scale up later,” though that strategy can work in some cases.

The best scenario is to have a ton of content produced ahead of time, with plans for consistently scheduling new content after the launch. Disney has a massive backlist of popular films and TV shows, and their content calendar for new film/TV is planned out years in advance.

Interestingly, Disney+ has opted for a traditional week-by-week release model for new series like The Mandalorian, challenging the binge-culture status quo established by Netflix. We can only assume that they think weekly releases will keep people on the hook in an era of “cancel and come back later” streaming.

You don’t need to be a huge brand or have a large budget to plan ahead. Investing the time and money to produce your content in advance will pay dividends. You may not be able to rope in 10 million users on day one, but you’ll be far more successful than if you tried to wing it.

•••

There’s a lot content strategists, marketers, and brands can learn from the launch of Disney+—if they’re paying attention, and if they know what to look for. We can’t tell how the sausage was made, but we do get to study the final polished product. Look carefully, look with a content strategist’s eyes, and you’ll find many lessons you can apply to your own brand or business.Now, if you need me, I’ll be working my way through that Star Wars content pillar, one lightsaber fight at a time…

Matt Herron

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