Digital Transformation

Disney+... for defying the odds: The Drum editorial team’s best of 2020

By The Drum Reporters | Editorial team

January 5, 2021 | 5 min read

It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.

Remember when people were queuing to pre-order Disney+ and we laughed? Remember when Disney announced its goal to reach between 60 million and 90 million subscriptions by 2024? Do you remember when it reached almost 90 million three years early? Or were you too busy watching the Mandalorian to notice?


Disney+ is about halfway to Netflix’s 160 million in a single year

This year, Disney+ is about halfway to Netflix’s 160 million in a single year. It’s a remarkable push.

Few could envision the sheer scale and appeal of the Disney subscription video on demand archive then. Now we’ve got Pixar, Star Wars, the MCU and the Disney vault, later buffered up with Fox movies and however many seasons of the Simpsons there are. Basically, it delivered what many had always promised – just about all the content you’d ever need all in one place.

The latest marketing news and insights straight to your inbox.

Get the best of The Drum by choosing from a series of great email briefings, whether that’s daily news, weekly recaps or deep dives into media or creativity.

Sign up

We have to caveat, owning most of the desirable entertainment IP in the west helps when launching a new service and is a luxury that few services could match it on. But there was a lot of work still to be done.

Disney+ has amassed more than 86 million subscribers since launching in November 2019. Combined with Hulu (38.8 million) and ESPN Plus (11.5 million) it has a combined total of 137 million subscribers. That’s almost the population of Russia, if you’re curious. It is an absolute marketing masterclass.

Its launch year, during a pandemic, “exceeded our expectations”, said chief exec Bob Chapek.

It’s been a year of reform for the company. With income from its parks annihilated, the SVOD push has been heavier than anticipated. It tried bypassing cinema with a pricey Mulan SVOD launch, and released some movies including Artemis Fowl and Soul for free.

When the lockdown first landed, Disney acted fast. You’d see ads for it everywhere, and that was before it knew it could just put Baby Yoda’s face on a subscription link and get by OK. We needed something to fill the time and the service with everything (including the best kid-friendly gear) won out. Furthermore, the Mandalorian was, according to Nielsen, the second most-watched show in the US this year, and you’d imagine that goes wider.

If a lack of originals outside of the aforementioned threatened churn, the announcement of fresh content on its Marvel and Star Wars slates aught to power the marketing engine in the following year.

Disney responded to how people want to consume media. And that goes beyond SVOD, to reflect a shift from the box office to serialisation of its biggest series and features – such as GroupWatch, which lets up to six account holders sync their streams.

Remember, this is the year that Quibi – with huge backing, a big budget and some real star power – died on arrival. Many streaming giants will have to learn those lessons and look at how they provide something that Disney doesn’t – which isn’t much.

We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.

Digital Transformation

More from Digital Transformation

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +