A scene from The Mandalorian, a new Star War series streaming on Disney+. | Lucasfilm
“The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our highest expectations.” Translation: Whoops.
Disney spent billions of dollars to launch its long-awaited streaming service today, and ... lots of people can’t stream it.
The internet lit up with reports of consumers who were unable to find, download, or get Disney+ to work on Tuesday (it worked fine for this reporter). Launch day snafus are common for any consumer internet product, but this one is apparently large enough that Disney can’t brush it off as carping from a few disgruntled tweeters.
Here’s an official, not terribly helpful, statement from a Disney public relations rep: “The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our highest expectations. While we are pleased by this incredible response, we are aware of the current user issues and are working to swiftly resolve them. We appreciate your patience.”
Again, it’s not shocking that Disney had some kind of issues launching a much-publicized streaming video service.
But it is surprising, since Disney executives were well aware of the attention and scrutiny they would face. The company rolled out a test version of the service in the Netherlands this fall, and Disney executives told reporters last week that they had seen some technical issues with the beta version of Disney+ but had resolved them.
And on Thursday, Disney CEO Bob Iger assured investors that his company was, indeed, ready for today’s big push:
Disney wasn’t just hoping that it was ready for scale: The company had invested some $3 billion to make sure it would be ready to stream video to tens of millions of people. It spent that money on BamTech, the streaming service originally built by Major League Baseball to let people watch games online, which was subsequently used to outsource video streaming for everyone from HBO to the WWE.
At the time of that deal, industry observers criticized Disney, arguing that it overpaid for a tech company it could have built itself for much less. Disney executives shrugged and said they didn’t mind overpaying if it got them the tech they needed, quickly.
So what went wrong today? Disney certainly isn’t saying. BamTech’s tech stack was supposed to be particularly good at moving live video around the web, which isn’t an issue here — everything Disney is streaming today is pre-recorded, like The Mandalorian, a new Star Wars spinoff TV show.
It’s also supposed to be good at handling many concurrent users, which very well could be an issue here as Disney fans piled into the service early this morning.
It’s tempting to draw conclusions about a big media company’s inability to figure out streaming, especially when it is trying to chase down Netflix, which now streams to some 160 million customers around the world. Apple’s TV+ service, which launched earlier this month, didn’t have similar technical problems — but the actual shows on the service drew lackluster reviews.
In the past, some big media companies that tried and struggled to stream ended up handing that work over to BamTech, but Disney simply bought BamTech instead. If that doesn’t work, what’s next?
On the other hand, it is entirely possible that Disney’s launch-day problems are just that and won’t be around in a day or two. And that tens of millions of people who didn’t get up on Tuesday morning to stream Disney+ will eventually download the app and find that it works just fine.