Disney+ UX teardown: Wins, fails and fixes

Disney announced earlier this month that it’s going all-in on streaming media.

As part of this new strategy, the company is undergoing a major reorganisation of its media and entertainment business that will focus on developing productions that will debut on its streaming and broadcast services.

This will include merging the company’s media businesses, ads and distribution, and Disney+ divisions so that they’ll now operate under the same business unit.

As TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber reports, Disney’s announcement follows a significant change to its release schedule to address new realities, including a collapsing theatrical release business; production issues; and the runaway success of its Disney+ streaming service — all caused or accelerated by the national failure to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what better time than now to give Disney+ the Extra Crunch user experience teardown treatment. With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of the things Disney+ gets right and things that should be fixed. They include zero distractions while signing up, “the power of percentages,” and the importance of designing for trackpad, mouse and touch outside of native applications.

Zero distractions while signing up

If the user is trying to complete a very specific task — such as making a payment — don’t distract them. They’re experiencing event-driven behaviour.

The win: Disney have almost entirely removed any kind of distractions when signing up. This includes the header and footer. They want you to stay on-task.

Image Credits: Disney+

Steve O’Hear: This seems like a very easy win but one we don’t see as often as perhaps we should. Am I right that most sign-up flows aren’t this distraction-free and why do you think that is?

Peter Ramsey: Yeah, it’s such an easy win. Sometimes you see sign-up screens that have Google Adwords on it, and I think, “You’re risking the user getting distracted and leaving for what, half a penny?” If I had to guess why more companies don’t utilise this technique, it’s probably just because they don’t want to deal with the technical hassle of hiding a bunch of elements.

The power of percentages

Only use percentages when it makes sense. 80% off sounds like a lot, but 3% doesn’t. Percentages can be a great way of making a discount seem larger than it actually is, but sometimes it can have the reverse effect. This is because people are generally bad at accurately estimating discounts. “What’s 13% off £78?”

The fail: If you sign up to a year of Disney+, then you’re offered 16% free. But 16% isn’t easy to calculate in your head — so people guess. And sometimes, their guesses may be less than the actual value of the discount.

The fix: In this instance, it would be far more compelling (and require less mental arithmetic), if it was marketed as “60 days free.” Sixty days is both easy to understand and easy to assign value to.

Image Credits: Disney+

Percentages may be harder to process or evaluate in isolation as an end user but they are easy to compare with each other i.e., we all know 25% off is better than 10% off. Aren’t you advocating obscuring the actual saving in favour of what sounds better on a case-by-case basis and therefore actually working against the end user? Of course I’m playing devils advocate a little here.

So, it’s actually a really complex dilemma, and there’s no “easy” answer — this would probably make a great dinner time conversation. Yes, if you’re offering two discounts, then a percentage may be the easiest way for people to compare them.

The new Chromecast adds a remote and the new Google TV interface for $49

It’s been a while since Google gave its Chromecast line a proper bit of love — perhaps not surprising for a fairly mature device now marking its seventh year. At today’s big Launch Night In event, however, the company’s bringing the popular TV dongle a much-needed refresh by way of Chromecast with Google TV.

The new version of the streaming product looks pretty similar to its predecessor, though the perfectly circular shape has been stretched out in something more oblong, dangling off the end of an HDMI cable. The biggest change from a hardware standpoint is the addition of — reportedly — the product’s most requested features: a remote.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Long and slim (perfect for wedging between the couch cushions), the remote features a navigation wheel surrounding a selection button up top and devoted buttons for YouTube and Hulu. There’s also a Google Assistant button and a microphone flanked by the power and input buttons, which allows for voice control. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries, included in the box.

The other big addition here is Google TV. I’ve detailed the offering here, but the short version of it is that it’s a new interface from the company designed to offer a more streamlined viewing experience. It pulls together into a single spot movies, TV shows and live television programming — similar to what you get with something like Fire TV and Apple TV.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The new dongle can support 4K HDR video at rates up to 60 frames a second. It also supports Dolby Vision, the company’s image optimization format. The system supports 6,500 apps and live and on-demand TV from 85 networks, as well as key streaming services like Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix and, of course, YouTube. Peacock support is on the way — as is support for Google’s Stadia gaming offering, which is set to arrive in the first half of next year.

The dongle is available for sale in the U.S. starting today, priced at $50. Customers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the U.K. can pre-order it today, as well.

Original Content podcast: Disney’s ‘Mulan’ remake is fun, if you can forget the controversy

Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” comes with some serious baggage.

First, the film has drawn political controversy for its star’s statements in support of the action Hong Kong police  against protestors, as well as the fact that “Mulan” was filmed, in part, in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has held Muslim ethnic minorities in detention camps.

And although it’s less weighty, it’s also hard to escape the business context: “Mulan” is one of the first big Hollywood blockbusters (along with “Tenet”) to be released after the pandemic shuttered movie theaters around the world. Warner Bros. opted to release “Tenet” in theaters, while Disney is bringing “Mulan” to Disney+ with a hefty price tag of $29.99. (There’s still a theatrical release in some markets, including China.)

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we acknowledge all of that context while also doing our best to discuss the merits of the film itself. It’s arguably the best of Disney’s live-action remakes, and it’s certainly gorgeous to watch, with some thrilling action scenes and beautiful landscape shots.

At the same time, Jordan argued that it doesn’t live up to the animated original, and we both agreed that the script can feel sleight and forgettable — particularly in the shadow of those real-world controversies. Plus, it’s hard to justify the current price, unless you’ve got kids who are eager to see it. Otherwise, you can probably wait until December 4, when “Mulan” becomes available to regular Disney+ subscribers.

Before we jump into our review, we also talk about this coming week’s virtual Disrupt conference.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:31 Disrupt preview
6:33 “Mulan” review
35:10 “Mulan” spoiler discussion

Media Roundup: Patreon joins unicorn club, Facebook could ban news in Australia, more

Welcome to the very first edition of Extra Crunch’s Media Roundup. Over the past few months, we’ve launched features like Decrypted, Deep Science and The Exchange, which aggregate and analyze the latest news in a given sector, so it seemed overdue to do something similar for media.

The goal is to provide a regular update on what entrepreneurs in the content or advertising business should be thinking about. That doesn’t just mean startup funding — we’ll track the broader landscape, including platform policies that could affect everyone — which is just as important as knowing who’s getting checks.

If you have any thoughts on what you’d like to see included in future roundups, please let me know in the comments below.

Let’s get started.

Facebook may ban news sharing in Australia

This is part of an ongoing dispute between Facebook and the Australian government, which has created a plan that would require Facebook and Google to share revenue with Australian news publishers whose content appears on their services. Both companies have a complicated relationship with the news business, with many publishers both relying on large platforms for traffic while also resenting the fact that those platforms take the vast majority of digital ad revenue.

In an attempt to improve that relationship, Google and Facebook have committed in recent years to investing hundreds of millions of dollars in journalism — and while those efforts are commendable, it’s worth asking whether publishers should be entitled to more by law, not just as a gift.

Unity’s IPO numbers look pretty … unreal?

Unity, the company founded in a Copenhagen apartment in 2004, is poised for an initial public offering with numbers that look pretty strong.

Even as its main competitor, Epic Games, is in the throes of a very public fight with Apple over the fees the computer giant charges developers who sell applications (including games) on its platform (which has seen Epic’s games get the boot from the App Store), Unity has plowed ahead, narrowing its losses and maintaining its hold on over half of the game development market.

For the first six months of 2020, the company lost $54.2 million on $351.3 million in revenue. The company narrowed its losses compared to 2019, when the company lost $163.2 million on $541.8 million in revenue, and 2018 when the company lost $131.6 million on $380.8 million in revenue. As of June 30, 2020 the company had total assets of $1.29 billion and $453.2 million in cash.

Increasing revenue and narrowing losses are things that investors like to see in companies that they’re potentially going to invest in, as they point to a path to profitability. Another sign of the company’s success is the number of customers that contribute more than $100,000 in annual revenue. In the first six month of the year, Unity had 716 such customers, pointing to the health of its platform.

The company will trade on the NYSE under the single-letter ticker “U”. The NYSE only has a few single letters left to offer, although Pandora gave up the letter P when it was bought by Liberty Media back in 2018.

Unlike Epic Games, Unity has long worked with the major platforms and gaming companies to get their engine in front of as many developers and gamers as possible. In fact, the company estimates that 53% of the top 1,000 mobile games on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and over 50% of mobile, personal computer and console games were made with Unity.

Some of the top titles that the platform claims include Nintendo’s Mario Kart: Tour, Super Mario Run and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp; Niantic’s Pokémon GO and Activision’s recent Call of Duty: Mobile are also Unity games.

The knock against Unity is that it’s not as powerful as Epic’s Unreal rendering engine, but that hasn’t stopped the company from making forays into industries beyond gaming — something that it will need to continue doing if it’s to be successful.

Unity already has a toehold in Hollywood, where it was used to recreate the jungle environment used in Disney’s “Lion King” remake (meanwhile, much of “The Mandalorian” was created using Epic’s Unreal engine).

Of course, Unity’s numbers also reveal that the size of its business is currently a bit smaller than its biggest rival. In 2019, Epic said it had earnings of $730 million on revenue of $4.2 billion, according to VentureBeat . And the North Carolina-based game developer is now worth $17.3 billion.

Still, the games market is likely big enough for both companies to thrive. “Historically there has been substantial industry convergence in the games developer tools business, but over the past decade the number of developers has increased so much, I believe the market can support two major players,” Piers Harding-Rolls, games analyst at Ampere Analysis, told the Financial Times.

Venture investors in the Unity platform have waited a long time for this moment, and they’re certainly confident in the company’s prospects.

The last investment round valued the company at $6 billion, with the secondary sale of $525 million worth of the company’s shares.

Unity’s IPO numbers look pretty … unreal?

Unity, the company founded in a Copenhagen apartment in 2004, is poised for an initial public offering with numbers that look pretty strong.

Even as its main competitor, Epic Games, is in the throes of a very public fight with Apple over the fees the computer giant charges developers who sell applications (including games) on its platform (which has seen Epic’s games get the boot from the App Store), Unity has plowed ahead, narrowing its losses and maintaining its hold on over half of the game development market.

For the first six months of 2020, the company lost $54.2 million on $351.3 million in revenue. The company narrowed its losses compared to 2019, when the company lost $163.2 million on $541.8 million in revenue, and 2018 when the company lost $131.6 million on $380.8 million in revenue. As of June 30, 2020 the company had total assets of $1.29 billion and $453.2 million in cash.

Increasing revenue and narrowing losses are things that investors like to see in companies that they’re potentially going to invest in, as they point to a path to profitability. Another sign of the company’s success is the number of customers that contribute more than $100,000 in annual revenue. In the first six month of the year, Unity had 716 such customers, pointing to the health of its platform.

The company will trade on the NYSE under the single-letter ticker “U”. The NYSE only has a few single letters left to offer, although Pandora gave up the letter P when it was bought by Liberty Media back in 2018.

Unlike Epic Games, Unity has long worked with the major platforms and gaming companies to get their engine in front of as many developers and gamers as possible. In fact, the company estimates that 53% of the top 1,000 mobile games on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and over 50% of mobile, personal computer and console games were made with Unity.

Some of the top titles that the platform claims include Nintendo’s Mario Kart: Tour, Super Mario Run and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp; Niantic’s Pokémon GO and Activision’s recent Call of Duty: Mobile are also Unity games.

The knock against Unity is that it’s not as powerful as Epic’s Unreal rendering engine, but that hasn’t stopped the company from making forays into industries beyond gaming — something that it will need to continue doing if it’s to be successful.

Unity already has a toehold in Hollywood, where it was used to recreate the jungle environment used in Disney’s “Lion King” remake (meanwhile, much of “The Mandalorian” was created using Epic’s Unreal engine).

Of course, Unity’s numbers also reveal that the size of its business is currently a bit smaller than its biggest rival. In 2019, Epic said it had earnings of $730 million on revenue of $4.2 billion, according to VentureBeat . And the North Carolina-based game developer is now worth $17.3 billion.

Still, the games market is likely big enough for both companies to thrive. “Historically there has been substantial industry convergence in the games developer tools business, but over the past decade the number of developers has increased so much, I believe the market can support two major players,” Piers Harding-Rolls, games analyst at Ampere Analysis, told the Financial Times.

Venture investors in the Unity platform have waited a long time for this moment, and they’re certainly confident in the company’s prospects.

The last investment round valued the company at $6 billion, with the secondary sale of $525 million worth of the company’s shares.

TikTok’s big UnitedMasters deal is the way forward for creators looking to secure their bag

TikTok is right in the jaws of a thorny situation with the U.S. Government regarding its ownership, but it’s sending a clear message today that it is not sitting on its heels with big deals. Yesterday, it announced a deal with UnitedMasters to allow artists on TikTok to distribute their songs directly to streaming services and other partners directly.

UnitedMasters is the un-record-label label — in fact a direct distribution company founded by former president of Interscope Records, Steve Stoute. The firm allows musicians (especially budding ones) to pay a competitive distribution rate to get access to Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, Apple Music and other services. It also gets them access to analytics, retargeting, CRM tools and individual deals that UM makes with brands like ESPN and the NBA.

Normally, the path between an artist being able to go viral on TikTok and be included in the next NBA 2k or before an official game on the air would be a long one involving a lot of knives out for pieces of the pie. UnitedMasters shortcuts all of this.

The simple scenario is this:

  • An aspiring artist or songwriter puts out a song or riff on TikTok (likely one of many).
  • This one has something and it catches on the algorithm and generates numbers.
  • The creator opts in to participating in UnitedMasters’ program.
  • They give up a cut of 10% but get direct distribution into the major streaming buckets and potential A-grade partners. (There’s also a $5/mo subscription option.)
  • They can also market things like tickets, merch and more directly to fans using UM’s customer tools.
  • The artist keeps 100% of their royalties.

Which is why a tie up with TikTok makes a hell of a lot of sense. One of the biggest issues with viral social platforms has been the way that they reward creators. Twitter’s Vine, of course, squandered their opportunity there. Even YouTube has had major problems providing consistent revenue to many of its top creators, with a long trend towards big hitters monetizing off platform in order to earn consistent, durable money.

TikTok has already announced a creators fund with a significant purse, but it needs to go beyond that. We’ve seen over and over how young creators on the platform create viral waves of attention for TikTok and millions of re-enactments and remixes. Often, though, those creators are offered little recourse to monetize or benefit from their creations. Dance creators and musical talents, often young Black women, are literally crafting culture in real-time on TikTok and the pathways for them to benefit materially are very rare. Sure, it’s great when an originator gets called out by a Times reporter willing to do the work to trace the source, but what about the thousands of others being minted as a real voice on the platform every month?

It’s beyond time for the creators of The Culture to benefit from that culture. That’s why I find this UnitedMasters deal so interesting. Offering a direct pipeline to audiences without the attendant vulture-ism of the recording industry apparatus is really well aligned with a platform like TikTok, which encourages and enables ‘viral sounds’ with collaborative performances. Traditional deal structures are not well suited to capturing viral hype, which can rise and fall within weeks without additional fuel.

In terms of overall platforms, TikTok clearly has the highest concentration of incredible and un-tapped musical talent on the market. It’s just wild how many creators I see on there that are just flat out as good if not better than what you hear on the radio. Opera, rap, soul, folk, comedy, songwriting, it runs the gamut.

TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer came to the company after a long stint at Disney ending with a very successful Disney+ launch. Almost immediately, he was dropped into a political firestorm between China and the U.S. government. Parent company ByteDance must sell within 90 days, says Trump, or get shut down. Microsoft might buy them. Other tech companies are circling. This deal is a pretty crisp forward-looking signal that TikTok sees a way through this and is not waiting to innovate on one of the trickier components of this era of user generated businesses.

And on top of that, it charts a course for how user generated platforms should look to service creators and keep them in their universe. All UGC plays garner significant value from the creative energies of their users, but few have found a way to make that relationship reciprocal in a way that feels sustainable.

This UnitedMasters deal feels different, and the start of a larger trend that could pay big dividends to platforms and, finally, creators.

Verizon adds free Hulu and ESPN+ to some unlimited wireless plans

Verizon and Disney announced this morning that they’re extending and expanding a partnership that gives some Verizon Wireless subscribers access to Disney’s streaming services at no addition charge.

The companies announced last fall that Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) would be offering free Disney+ to unlimited wireless customers, and on an earnings call in February, Disney’s then-CEO Bob Iger said that around 20% of Disney+ subscribers came from Verizon.

More recently, the entertainment giant said that Disney+ had more than 60.5 million subscribers as of August 3. In comparison, Hulu had 35.5 million subscribers at the end of its most recent quarter (June 26), while ESPN+ had 8.5 million subscribers.

With today’s announcement, subscribers to Verizon’s Play More and Get More Unlimited wireless plans will get free access to not just Disney+, but also Hulu and ESPN+. (Plus, Apple Music.) Disney normally charges $12.99 when these three streaming services are purchased together as The Disney Bundle.

“The addition of The Disney Bundle to our agreement with Verizon reinforces our commitment to providing their subscribers with access to high-quality entertainment from Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+,” said Disney’s executive vice president of platform distribution Sean Breen in a statement. “We are always looking for the most advantageous ways for consumers to experience our content and we are pleased to work with Verizon so that they can provide their customers with these appealing new offers.”

 

Netflix’s latest effort to make inroads in India: Support for Hindi

Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet, scores of firms operating in the country offer their services only in English. Netflix, one such company, said on Friday it’s aiming to break through the language barrier.

The American on-demand video streaming giant today rolled out support for Hindi, a language spoken by nearly half a billion people in India, across its platform. From the sign up page to search rows, to collections, synopsis and payment, Hindi language is now baked in across the platform. Subscribers can choose Hindi language from ‘Manage Profiles’ section on the welcome screen.

“Delivering a great Netflix experience is as important to us as creating great content. We believe the new user interface will make Netflix even more accessible and better suit members who prefer Hindi,” said Monika Shergill, VP-Content at Netflix India, in a statement.

Netflix’s global competitors, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar also support Hindi language, though the latter has deployed Hindi in limited capacity (not for a movie or show’s synopsis, for instance).

The focus on Hindi illustrates the level of traction Netflix believes it has received in India. Most international firms tend to localize their services in India after they have fully tapped the population in urban cities across the country where English is a common language.

Facebook and Google — two companies that have each amassed over 350 million users in India — have long supported Hindi and several other local Indian languages across their services. Amazon added support for Hindi on its app in 2018, and rolled out support for the language in Alexa last year. In June, the company said sellers could now sign up to its platform and manage their accounts in Hindi language.

Flipkart introduced support for Hindi on its platform last year, and added three more local languages in June this year.

Support for Hindi is the latest effort from Netflix, which competes with more than three dozen on-demand video streaming services in India, to attract subscribers in the country. In the past one year, the company has also explored ways to make its platform affordable to more users in India, where an average person earns about $2,000 a year.

Last year, it launched a mobile-only plan in India that costs less than $3 a month and is currently testing at least one more affordable subscription tier in the country. At an event in India in early 2018, Netflix co-founder and co-chief executive Reed Hastings said — perhaps jokingly (can’t tell) — that India will eventually bring 100 million subscribers to his platform.

The company’s moves since then suggest that Netflix believes it. Last year, Netflix said it had earmarked $420 million for producing and licensing content in India by the end of 2020. Last month, the streaming service announced 17 original shows and movies that it plans to release over the next few months.

Like more than two dozen languages — including Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese — Hindi support will be available to subscribers worldwide.

‘Mulan’ is coming to Disney+ on September 4, for an additional price of $29.99

Those wondering whether The Walt Disney Company would eventually give up on a traditional theatrical release for “Mulan” now have their answer.

While the coronavirus pandemic prompted Disney to accelerate the release of some movies like Pixar’s “Onward” on streaming, and to send certain lower-profile movies like “Artemis Fowl” straight to Disney+, the company chose to delay its bigger releases like “Mulan” and “Black Widow.” In fact, “Mulan” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” were expected to be the first big movies in theaters whenever they reopened.

However, with the pandemic showing no real signs of subsiding in the United States, and no clear date for theatrical reopenings in key markets like New York and California, Warner Bros. recently announced that “Tenet” will not follow a traditional theatrical release schedule, and instead will open internationally this month before coming to select North American cities on September 3.

And during today’s earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that “Mulan” will launch on Disney+ on September 4 as a “premiere access” release in “most Disney+ markets” including the United States and Canada, while also being released theatrically in “certain markets.”

It sounds like subscribers will have to pay an additional $29.99 for the film, although Chapek didn’t offer any details about how this will work. If “Mulan” is popular, and if it remains unsafe to open theaters, then Disney could conceivably follow a similar strategy for “Black Widow” and other upcoming films.

During the call, Chapek also said that as of yesterday, Disney+ has grown to more than 60.5 million paid subscribers.