Disney+: Critiqued for playing the ‘nostalgia’ card

I often reminisce about coming home from middle school, sitting on the couch and turning on Family Channel to watch the trilogy of after-school shows: The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, followed by Hannah Montana and That’s So Raven.

In many ways, we grew up with these characters—laughed with them, sympathized with them, and put up cheesy posters of Troy Bolton in our bedroom walls. That’s why it’s not unusual to see tweets similar to these: “Petition to put Recess on Netflix?” or “Is there a website where I can safely stream Beauty and the Beast?” Well, Disney-lovers, after years of waiting, your prayers have finally been answered.

Just over a year ago, Disney announced that they had plans to launch their own streaming service; and this November, that became a reality. Branded as Disney+, this multimedia platform allows individuals of all ages to engulf themselves in a whirlwind of Disney-themed shows and movies. From original Family Channel shows to children’s classic movies, Disney+ has just about enough variety to get your inner preteen screaming in excitement. As of now, the streaming service is available in Canada, the United States and the Netherlands, with plans to expand across Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe by 2020.

The streaming service plays off Disney’s marketing ploys to profit off fan’s nostalgia. In recent years, there have been a surge of old classics made new and progressive again (although live-action remakes of fan favourites like Aladdin, The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians may inevitably ruin childhood memories). And diving into Disney’s vault to revamp old content has been surprisingly lucrative.

In terms of money, seven of the eight remakes did well, with Pete’s Dragon being the only disappointing film. Disney has found more innovative ways to cater to old fans from the 90s, but also those who might not have ever gotten the chance to see the original animated movies. With the remakes, audiences have seen subtle script and scenic changes, but nothing too drastic in comparison to the older versions. Since 2010, Disney has made over $7 billion dollars globally.  

Whether we want to believe it or not, Disney is largely profiting off of older audiences. Ever heard of the nostalgia cycle? The gimmick of it is that it is adapted based on the estimation of how long it will take for society to yearn for the trends that belonged to generations before them. Upon the resurrection of all the old classics, Disney’s become dependant on creating “simpler times” for adults to relate to. By playing it safe and creating spinoffs of already beloved Disney programs that have existed for years, it might be less of a risk financially than trying out new content.

By creating Disney+, the production team is appealing to both kids and older adults. In an article on CNN, president of Disney’s streaming services, Michael Paull, admitted that there is a strategy used to decide what is and isn’t available to stream on Disney+. “We’re taking our best judgment [of these titles] to create a personalized experience [for everyone]”, says Paull. But will the strategy work?

Disney has been around for 96 years and it’s not surprising that the company is still chasing success. In an article by Business Insider comparing Netflix and Disney+  the number of people who are in favour of cancelling Netflix in favour of Disney+ has remained in the single digits. It’s not surprising:  you can’t find a wide variety of shows on Disney, in the same way you would be able to on Netflix.

Throughout these 96 years, Disney has cycled through an array of different generations, each more technologically advanced than the next. However, what didn’t change was the familiarity of the 2D images and family-friendly content that has been seen by our parents, us, and now will be seen by our future children. “My [younger] cousins never watched the same shows that I used to watch, so having this kind of streaming service that mixes old and new Disney is refreshing for all viewers,” says Lauren Luciani, a fourth-year child & youth studies student at Ryerson University.

It’s hard to really tell what the future of Disney+ holds, and whether it will succeed in appealing to both old and new viewers. Its willingness to try is a noteworthy marketing strategy other brands might be able to learn from.  

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia.