Los Angeles, Nov 13: Disney flung open its vast archive with the arrival of its much-hyped new television streaming service Tuesday, but the big launch was marred by glitches which prevented many customers accessing titles from Mickey Mouse cartoons to Star Wars.
The introduction of Disney+ marks a huge bet by the media-entertainment giant, pitching it into direct conflict with on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime which have disrupted the Hollywood media landscape.
It went live overnight on televisions, tablets and smartphones across the US and Canada, featuring thousands of movies and TV episodes from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and National Geographic.
Disney chief Bob Iger called the launch "a historic moment for our company that marks a new era of innovation and creativity." But after a series of posts on social media from users unable to watch, Disney acknowledged problems with the rollout, saying it was due to strong demand.
"The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our high expectations," the company said in a statement. "We are pleased by this incredible response and are working to quickly resolve the current user issue. We appreciate your patience." The real-time web monitoring service Downdetector reported at least 8,000 problems accessing Disney+ by 1400 GMT.
Dozens of Twitter users posted messages about the glitches, some using images of the Disney film "Ralph Breaks the Internet," or the hashtag #DisneyPlusFail. Others complained of long wait times trying to contact technical support.
Excited fans had stayed up until the small hours to be among the first to watch "The Mandalorian," a new live-action Star Wars television series which is among a handful of Disney+ exclusives available at launch.
In early reviews, the Los Angeles Times called the first episode "safe-but-entertaining," describing it as "long on impressive special effects and alien shootouts, and short on a fresh storyline." Vanity Fair praised the pilot's action sequences but found the show "lacking the achingly human element of the 'Star Wars' universe." New episodes will be released each Friday.
Traditional Hollywood studios like Disney until recently have been happy to pocket billions by selling streaming rights for their titles to the likes of Netflix and Amazon. With the launch, Disney will now forgo an estimated $5 billion in revenues from those streaming rights deals, and instead, charge users directly for access to its archive of television and film content.
Disney is undercutting most rivals with a monthly price of $6.99, or $12.99 packaged with Hulu and its sports service ESPN+.
Disney+ will be rolled out to Australia and New Zealand next week, and most of western Europe in March. The company expects to have between 60 million and 90 million subscribers by 2024.
While some of Disney's previous rights deals are yet to expire -- for example, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" remains on Netflix in the US for now -- Disney+ will be the "exclusive streaming home for films released by The Walt Disney Studios in 2019 and beyond," the company said.
Netflix boss Reed Hastings has said that his company welcomes the competition. "I'm not saying we worry about them, we admire them," he told the Dealbook conference in New York last week. "I'll subscribe, they've got great shows." Warner Bros parent company AT&T is following a similar strategy with its May launch of "HBO Max," while Universal Pictures parent Comcast is also set to introduce "Peacock" next year. "Obviously there will be a lot of players out there," said Clark Spencer, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
"But I think for us having that depth of that library and the storytelling talents that sit within the studio, it's really gonna be what sets us apart," he told AFP at the recent "Frozen II" world premiere in Los Angeles.
'Historic' Disney+ streaming launch marred by glitches