Wolk’s Week In Review: Disney+ rolls out in Europe, Showtime and Sling offer free trials

TV[R]EV Week In Review
In a display of both altruism and good marketing sense, several services have been giving out free trials to viewers stuck at home this month. (TV[R]EV)

Well-known industry analyst Alan Wolk is publishing his popular Week In Review columns first on FierceVideo every Friday. This means that FierceVideo readers are the first to get all Wolk's insights as they navigate the fast-moving television business.

Wolk's Week In Review

1. Disney+ rolls out in the U.K.

Disney is ramping its international expansion at what may be an opportune time for it, judging by the 5 million downloads the app got the first day it was available in more of Europe, where quarantined parents must be feeling a sense of relief knowing there is now an easier way for their children to watch “Frozen” over and over and over again.

Why it matters

One of the many wise moves Netflix made was to roll out its app to pretty much every country on earth. (Literally—the only countries not reached by Netflix are China, North Korea and Syria.)

That gives it a massive head start internationally, and it is capitalizing on it by bringing in local talent and local programming rather than just dubbing American shows. The upside to that is something like “Narcos,” where around half the dialog is in Spanish, which works well for a Latin American audience, but has a compelling enough story to engage an American or European one as well.

Disney’s brand is of course well known in Europe and so, unlike other American companies, it will have to do far less marketing—viewers are likely very familiar with their programming and just want to know where and when they can watch it.

The low price point helps, too.

The path forwards will be trickier for other American providers given that they have less name recognition (HBO is likely the exception) and are moving into an incrementally more crowded marketplace. 

Not to mention that this is going to look like an American invasion, especially once the fourth and fifth major US Flixes start to launch.

What you need to do about it

If you are one of the other Flixes, all is not lost, but you need to be more clever in the way you approach these markets. That means acknowledging that you are yet another major service asking for their business, and being aware of and ideally getting the participation of local players. Those local players can be the people who make the shows or the people who distribute them, but the less you can seem like a clueless American company, the better.

The other piece is to be sensitive to pricing issues. Netflix is running into issues around this in places like India, where the service is close to five times the price of local AVOD streaming service Hotstar and even an attempt to offer a lower-priced mobile-only version of Netflix does not seem to have gotten them the sort of traction they want: people in developing countries have very different personal budgets than people in the U.S.

If you’re Netflix, you’ve got competition now, but I tend to lean toward the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats—that the more people get used to using streaming services, the more likely they are to want more of them in order to meet all of their viewing needs. This is especially true in Europe where over the air is still a big deal.

And if you’re a European viewer, especially a European viewer with young kids—rejoice! You now have another way to keep them entertained throughout these long days of quarantine and sheltering in place.

2. Showtime and Sling offer up free trials

In a display of both altruism and good marketing sense, several services have been giving out free trials to viewers stuck at home this month.

Many MVPDs have been giving viewers a free preview of Showtime—Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon all are rolling out deals that would give viewers free access to Showtime and several smaller streaming services like Epix and The Yoga Channel.

Sling, which is also giving viewers free access to Showtime, has a special 14-day “Quarantine Package” on Sling Blue, which has the service’s 24-hour news channels that allows viewers to sample the service for free.

Why it matters

With everyone at home and looking for something to watch, this is a great way to build goodwill with viewers and potentially hook in some new subscribers. 

Showtime is in a very good spot as the latest season of “Homeland” is now out, and data from Inscape, which tracks viewing on over 14 million opted-in VIZIO smart TVs, indicates that it was among the top three most binged shows last weekend, along with “Law & Order SVU” and “NCIS Los Angeles.”

Plus, it can then use the intro to each “Homeland” episode to introduce viewers to the other programming (e.g., “Billions”) they have coming.

Sling is smart to make all those news channels available to people at a time when everybody wants to watch the news (well “wants” may be pushing it. Perhaps “feels like they need to” would be more accurate).

And while I’m on the topic of news, kudos to Hulu for adding a 24-hour version of ABC News to its service during the pandemic. That’s a smart move that tells your customers you care about them.

For all these services, there’s the added benefit of additional data points about who is watching, what they’re watching and who winds up subscribing.

Plus, offering free TV to people during a quarantine is a great way to advertise and to build goodwill among consumers, something the industry often overlooks. (You can see my complete thoughts on why the entire industry should be banding together to do this here.)

What you need to do about it

If you’re one of the other premium cable networks or one of the other vMVPDs or Flixes, then giving away a free trial seems like a win-win situation and should get you a lot of earned media.

If you’re a FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV service) then you might want to remind people that you’ve always been free and that you have a news service.

If you’re a viewer, this last season of “Homeland” has been really good so far. So, take advantage of Showtime’s offer!

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