History Has It’s Eyes on Disney+

Cover image courtesy of Denys Nevozhai

There’s not been much to shout about for any of us who work in the theatre, film or TV industry since the global pandemic took hold. But with every constraint, there are unexpected opportunities that arise, and for Disney+, a world full of children out of school and stuck at home saw many parents subscribe to the channel as a way to entertain/occupy/babysit the kids.

In April, the Guardian reported the Disney+ had reached 50 million global subscribers, a mere five months after launch.

This is a phenomenal achievement, but with its suite of titles from Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars, Disney+ was bound to win the hearts and minds of bored kids and stressed parents.

A slightly obtuse inclusion in the programming line-up is the incredible collection of National Geographic content, arising from what was originally a partnership between the National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox, and later became a part of Disney+ after its majority share acquisition of 21st Century Fox in March, 2019.

But now, as lockdown begins to ease in Europe and globally, questions of longevity arise, as certainly many of my friends and colleagues with children have expressed their angst that after seventeen weeks of lockdown, their kids have pretty much exhausted the Disney + library.

So then came the masterstroke. On the 3rd July Disney broadcast Hamilton, the original production of the critically acclaimed Broadway musical.

My social feeds lit up as my theatre friends and colleagues from across the globe shared their delight. The brilliance of this programming move is Disney+ brings together an unusual collection of viewers under one, strangely homely umbrella; the kids, the kids at heart, the parents of kids, the nature lovers, and now the arts nuts.

Once hooked by Hamilton, there are other gems on the platform for musical theatre lovers, including the 2014 version of Into the Woods, with Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep, the Tony award winning musical Newsies, plus old favourites like Annie, Mary Poppins and Sound of Music. While TV broadcast of musicals has often been a retrospective experience, a historical journey into the fun shows of generations past, the inclusion of Hamilton brings the programming right into the present day. It’s a refreshing change, as good, current theatre shows are generally absent from mainstream broadcast, for obvious reasons. And while there is always an argument that broadcasting theatre goes against the very essence of live performance, my personal view is that the reach of mainstream broadcast only encourages live theatre going.

There’s no doubt about the smart piecing together of niche audiences from Disney+. Let’s hope Hamilton is just the start of continued great arts content.


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