Disney has done streaming before, but its new try could be huge

Disney announced this afternoon that it’s doing the inevitable. It’s launching its own streaming service in 2019, and will pull its movies from Netflix that same year. But this is not Disney’s first streaming service, as you might recall –  just the first that will be available to consumers in the U.S. The company is already running an on-demand subscription video service for Disney movies called DisneyLife, which has been live in the U.K. since 2015, in addition to being briefly available in China.

DisneyLife was seen as a way for Disney to experiment with streaming, before a larger public launch.

This not only includes being able to test out the underlying infrastructure for such an endeavour, but also what sort of content users respond to, what features they want, how parental controls should work, and so on. On DisneyLife, consumers pay a small monthly fee that lets families of up to six stream Disney movies, TV shows, even music, audiobooks and e-books online, on mobile devices, and to TVs through AirPlay and Chromecast.

If anything, DisneyLife is very much like a Disney-flavored Netflix, and could be looked to as an example of what’s to come.

At the time of its launch, a suggestion from The FT was that the platform powering DisneyLife could eventually be repurposed for other streaming services in the future – even those dedicated to Disney’s Marvel or Star Wars franchises, if Disney chose.

But DisneyLife is not powered by BAMTech, the streaming infrastructure provider that Disney just effectively took over. With today’s announcement of its $1.58 billion investment (pending regulatory approval), Disney will own 75 percent of BAMTech.

Disney already had a minority stake in BAMTech which it bought for $1 billion last year – a deal that had also given it the option to buy a controlling interest in the coming years, the company said at the time.

BAMTech will power the new Disney streaming service in 2019, as well as next year’s streaming sports service from Disney-owned ESPN.

However, the idea that Marvel and LucasFilm (Star Wars!) content could remain separate from Disney’s streaming service plans is something that’s still on the table. Disney’s announcement today fails to mention any Marvel or Star Wars titles in its list of upcoming movies for the new service. And Disney later confirmed on its earnings call that it’s still figuring out how to handle the licensing for these titles – it might continue traditional third-party deals, or it might add them to the Disney service.

Today, Disney simply touts that its new service will include the “newest live action and animated movies from Disney and Pixar.” It specifically lists titles like “Toy Story 4,” the “Frozen” sequel, and the live action version of “The Lion King,” as expected content.

The service will be fleshed out with original programming, too, thanks to what the company says will be increased investments in original movies, TV shows, and other short-form content, the company says. Plus, it will include “other Disney-branded exclusives” (which isn’t well explained).

Also of interest, if Disney does in fact take ideas learned from DisneyLife to build its new service, it could have a live TV component. On DisneyLife, users can watch the Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney Junior live. Disney didn’t say that will be the case on its new service, but does note that these three channels’ programming will be included.

The service’s pricing and availability is still unknown. Disney said it will be a global offering, but will respect its deals already in place in various markets.