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Disney+’s M-Rated Reboot?

Disney+ is about to get a lot more explicit.

So much so that Disney president Bob Iger recently told a group of Wall Street analysts that parents need to “prepare” for a coming infusion of content that’s, well, a long way from Mickey Mouse.

Here’s what’s happening:

In early November, Disney completed its buyout of Hulu from Comcast, purchasing the last 33% of that streaming service for an eye-popping $8.6 billion. And the company is wasting no time fully fusing Disney+ and Hulu. In December, the company will begin beta testing a new streaming hybrid that combines the content from Disney+ and Hulu completely on one seamless app, according to the industry publication Deadline. The formal rollout of the new product is anticipated in March.

Most industry prognosticators see the expanding scope of Disney’s streaming content as a good thing, offering consumers a growing menu of entertainment options that caters not only to children, but to adults as well.

Though Disney+ has quietly shoehorned a handful of R-rated Marvel properties into its lineup (Deadpool, Deadpool 2 and Logan), the company’s value proposition to consumers has always focused on Disney’s family-focused brand equity. And Iger knows it. Now, Disney+’s content menu will exist side by side (one supposes) with far racier fare. I’m talking about shows such as The Bisexual, The L Word, Mistresses, Harlots and American Horror Story, among others. These are all M-rated shows with steamy, profane or violent content.

So Iger told investors, quite bluntly, that parents need to get ready: “We are basically putting it in beta so that we can prepare parents, largely, to basically implement parental controls, because you’ll be able to access Hulu programming on the same app.”

We certainly recognize the importance of parental controls across all streaming platforms and devices. (And you can find our tutorials of setting them up for Disney+, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime here.)

That said, I can’t help but wonder if Iger is taking another wrong step here.

Disney, of course, has been reeling like mid-fight Rocky Balboa lately, and its plummeting stock prices reflect the fact that it’s been taking one metaphorical body blow after another. Disney+ has been forced to hike prices significantly and even add a cheaper advertising tier as the service continues hemorrhage cash. Linear TV properties (ABC, the Disney Channel, FX, ESPN and National Geographic) have all been struggling. Marvel and Star Wars properties have underperformed, both on the big screen and streaming. And the company’s theme parks have suffered downturns in the U.S. as well.

Iger’s desperate to change the narrative, to recoup the billions sunk into Disney+. But is adding raunchy sexual content to the Disney+ brand the way to do that, especially when so many have already walked away from the brand as it has veered increasingly into progressive activism in the last couple of years?

I don’t think it is. Disney’s value proposition, to borrow a business term, has always been providing wholesome entertainment that families can trust. Now, it’s reasonable to ask what separates Disney+ from, say, HBO, Netflix or Amazon. At this point, I’d say, well, nothing.

Maybe Disney sees that as a good thing. The market seems to, as stock prices have bounced off historic lows in the last week or so. But I think Iger and Co. are doubling down on the same kind of miscalculation that’s driven Disney’s core audience away. They’ve forgotten that Disney was once special. Different. Trusted.

There’s nothing special about Disney anymore. Nothing different. Nothing trustworthy. Just another media behemoth aiming images and messages at young minds and hearts that even Bob Iger admits parents will want to filter out.

Parents need to prepare? Indeed.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

12 Responses

  1. It’s not a multinational corporation’s job to raise our kids or instill our values in them. Disney gives parents the option to filter out mature content. If parents are too ignorant or passive to exercise that option, that’s on them.

    It’s alarming to me that parents would even let their kids navigate streaming services in the first place. Parents, not kids, should control the remote.

    1. That doesnt mean that disney which yes was created SOLEY for family friendly entertainment only should ruin and completely trash not only its company but yes the company that came with it. Yes parents should be parents but that doesnt mean any sane parent would want to have their child be easily able to access adult r rated mature content right next to g Mickey mouse. Seriously.

  2. Honestly thought they were going to mention the upcoming Echo show that’s the first MA-rated Marvel Studio production.

  3. “They’ve forgotten that Disney was once special. Different. Trusted.”

    You mean… the 90s? It’s been a low-quality content gristmill since the glut of sequels starting pouring forth, through to the current live-action rereleases, and a bi-annual theater movie worth seeing doesn’t really change that. It’s very weird to see people viewing Disney as the chosen one for good family entertainment when the Renaissance that people are actually thinking about has been over since I was a toddler.

    Disney’s troubles don’t come from moral degradation, it’s from corporate and shareholder bloat. Trying to pass off their actions as “progressive activism” just means we’ll learn nothing for when the next entertainment giant keels over in twenty years.

    If using a parental filter (or dare I suggest, making streaming choices for your child yourself) is too great a burden for you, pull out the DVD collection that I know y’all have. They’re not going away.

    1. Thank you for acknowledging the permanence of physical media. Here are some other benefits of movies on DVDs and Blu-Ray Discs:

      -No buffering
      -No unexpected commercial interruptions
      -The menu layout never changes

      1. You also don’t have to worry like you would for a movie being removed from a streaming service.

      2. There’s also the benefit that the licensing fee to public libraries can be cheaper with physical media. At one point, a librarian told me that if the physical copy is checked out and read at least 6 times, it works out to be cheaper because the ebook service they were using at the time had the library pay a fee every fifth time the ebook is borrowed. Whereas the physical copy just has the fee when they buy it initially.

  4. Does it make much difference if parents filter because of the password sharing and online piracy? It may keep it off the TV in the living room, but there need to be discussions about why this content is inappropriate for teens and also inappropriate for adults.

  5. For simplicity’s sake, I’d prefer they just leave Disney and Hulu as it is, or if they really want to stick their name on it, they should rename Hulu “Touchstone,” after the film label of the same name. Personally I think Disney+ has enough content as it is (Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic) to almost fill out several apps on its own. That said, I would have liked for them to make the PG-13 version of “Once Upon a Deadpool” available on their streaming service—I don’t understand why Disney of all companies wouldn’t make that option readily available. It would be like Nintendo releasing a Teen-rated re-cut of “Geist” or “Eternal Darkness” and then making a minimal effort to sell it or even to generally acknowledge it.

  6. Just have to say completely agree with this article. Not only is it completely irresponsible and ridiculous of Disney but complete slap in face to original disney. It was known as family disney for a reason and honestly the fact they themselves have admitted it speaks volumes. For those complaining saying its the parents job to parent yes that is true. But is also That doesnt mean that disney which yes was created SOLEY for family friendly entertainment only should ruin and completely trash not only its company but yes the company that came with it. Yes parents should be parents but that doesnt mean any sane parent would want to have their child be easily able to access adult r rated mature content right next to g Mickey mouse. Seriously.