Disney Plus UK: launch date confirmed, but it's not soon enough

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The launch of Disney Plus UK is finally confirmed for March 31, 2020. But while UK viewers may be relieved to have the Disney streaming service in sight, others may reasonably be ticked off about having to wait over four months longer than the first initial territories enjoying the platform from November 12 – in the US, Canada and the Netherlands, with a November 19 launch in New Zealand and Australia. 

For those of us stuck living on Old Blighty, Disney Plus UK is still a while off – with the simultaneous release in France, Germany, Italy and Spain being of little consolation.

The comments coming from @Disney_UK are curious too, stating that Disney Plus will replace the DisneyLife platform and that current subscribers will be able to "transition" over to the new service.

There's also mention of "a few different price plans", which is odd given the standardized single price tier in other regions, though this may just refer to bundles or monthly / annual payment options.

The past few weeks have been hard enough with viewers in the Netherlands already enjoying the Disney Plus service – with a free trial / public beta before the official launch date – even if we got a first taste of the service in our Disney Plus review (helpfully translated from Dutch).

But why the wait, you ask? English speaking markets will naturally be targeted hard for the global rollout, but any TV streaming service has to take part in separate licensing and distribution negotiations for every territory they move into, curating a separate catalogue depending on where they have the rights to show and stream particular shows and films.

That's why the US and UK versions of Netflix have different libraries, and why people are so keen to use Netflix VPNs to access shows not available in their own territory.

This is less of a problem for Disney, which owns the majority of the content it will be bringing to the service – unlike, say, Netflix, which still licenses a large number of shows, despite its recent push into producing more of its own content.

But with five territories getting Disney Plus at launch, and the Disney Plus UK launch date so long after, UK viewers may feel left out in the cold.

Fans don't like to wait

The Mandalorian Trailer #2

Understandably some of us aren't quite sure why the UK has been left out of Disney Plus: Phase One.

Asking for people's patience is one thing, but some Twitter users made the good point that the staggered release will likely cause issues in terms of spoilers for launch day content, or any new show – like the Star Wars TV show, The Mandalorian, coming in 2019 – that hits the US several months before the UK.

Issues like online piracy and VPNs will also be more likely when big-name shows are hitting the US without a way to access them abroad, while the four-month gap makes spoilers pretty much inevitable as those with access to the show start tweeting, reviewing, and engaging with this massive piece of pop culture.

Disney could always license some of its shows to UK providers (say, Sky TV) in the interim, but with no word on that so far, it looks like the March 2020 release is all we're getting.

Disney Plus UK: can we learn from Netflix?

The best point of comparison is in other global streaming services that have had staggered releases outside of the US.

Netflix, for instance, first launched in the US in 1998 as a DVD rental service. It didn't make the move to online streaming until many years later – and it wasn't until 2010 that the platform was able to expand beyond US borders.

The first international territory was the US's close neighbour, Canada – where it launched in 2010 with a lower subscription cost and much more limited library of titles, given the difficulty and expense of obtaining streaming rights abroad. We can expect a similar barrier for Disney Plus, and there will likely be fewer films and shows in non-US territories, especially close to launch.

2011 also saw Netflix expand into South America, as well as the Caribbean. It wasn't until 2012 that Netflix came to Europe, launching in the UK and Ireland, as well as Scandinavia. Now, of course, Netflix streams across huge swathes of the planet, supporting 23 languages in over 190 countries.

Disney Plus will be getting more of a head start, given it's jumping right into a streaming platform, and for five territories at its November launch, including areas of Europe.

It might seem odd not to include the UK in that first batch, but Disney Plus UK should arrive a lot quicker than the two-year delay seen when Netflix started expanding, given Disney knows it is playing catch-up. UK audiences don't require the same kind of extensive localisation process as most of Europe or Asia (given the shared language with US viewers), so that should be a simpler proposition.

Disney Plus UK: original predictions

Disney had said it plans to bring its platform to "all major markets within the first two years" of the platform's life (via ScreenRant).

Our original prediction was early- or mid-2020, which was confirmed by the official March 31, 2020 launch date. 

Naturally Disney wouldn't actively want to miss out on UK revenue, and these issues are more complicated than flipping a switch for different regions – but the delay won't be good for English-speaking fans, or those wanting to prevent piracy around one of this year's most anticipated TV series.