Disney+ just put a lot of pressure on Apple's streaming video service

Key Points
  • Disney's price for its streaming video service Disney+ is lower than many expected at $6.99 per month.
  • Given Disney's huge back catalog of content, it's a very attractive deal.
  • It will be hard for Apple's announced streaming service to compete unless it undercuts Disney on price.
Disney shares surge after unveiling streaming service details — Here's what six experts say investors should watch
Disney shares surge after unveiling streaming service details — Here's what six experts say investors should watch

Disney shocked the tech and media worlds on Thursday when it announced that its streaming video subscription would cost $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year — significantly less than Netflix or Amazon Prime currently cost. There were gasps at Disney's launch event when it revealed the price.

But the company that might need to make the most changes in response to the Disney+ product is Apple.

Last month Apple said that it will release its streaming video service, Apple TV+, this fall. The subscription service will include exclusive original shows, movies and documentaries produced by Apple. The company is spending billions of dollars on stars like Oprah Winfrey, Steve Carell, Jennifer Aniston and Steven Spielberg.

But no matter how well Apple's shows and movies end up being received, there's no way that it can compete with the lineup of content that Disney has assembled for Disney+, which will put pressure on Apple to undercut Disney's price or give its shows away for free, as was once the company's strategy, CNBC first reported in October.

"While there is uncertainty in the broader media landscape ... we believe Disney is in the best position to succeed given its unmatched arsenal of content, well recognized global brand and impressive marketing arm," J.P. Morgan analyst Alexia Quadrani wrote in a note distributed Friday.

Bob Iger, chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company, walks with Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., as they attend the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 6, 2016 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
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Disney's service will have significantly more robust content than previously expected, the JPM analysts wrote, including the entire Pixar library, a selection of Marvel shows, "Star Wars" movies and "The Simpsons." That's in addition to original content Disney is creating as well. "It's called back catalog," RBC technology analyst Mark Mahaney told CNBC.

Compare that with Apple's 35 or so original shows and movies: A handful of series, none of which are major existing franchises, that Apple is bankrolling from scratch. A TV comedy called "The Morning Show" and an anthology produced by Steven Spielberg called "Amazing Stories" are Apple's flagship scripted shows. Apple isn't expected to buy licenses for third-party content like Netflix does.

There are some huge names attached to Apple productions, but even if Apple's shows wildly exceed expectations, it's still going to take years to build up fanbases like Disney's properties.

Apple hasn't revealed a price or release date for Apple TV+, which will enable it to pivot in response to Disney if it wants. Apple hasn't even confirmed if it will charge for Apple TV+, although the company's marketing language strongly suggests it will. Apple's two current content subscriptions, for news and music, both cost $10 per month.

Consumers are already complaining that they pay for too many content subscriptions. People could end up passing on Apple for Disney's superior content, especially if it ends up being less expensive than Apple.

Apple could end up returning to its original content plan: Giving away shows for free as part of its digital TV strategy, and creating a platform to charge viewers for subscriptions to legacy media companies, including Disney.

Apple and Disney have historically been eager to partner with each other. Disney CEO Bob Iger is on Apple's board of directors, and he said Thursday that Disney+ will most likely be available on Apple devices, including its TV box. (Iger also said he recuses himself from all discussions about streaming services at Apple.)

In that scenario, Apple would be able to focus on one of its core strengths: Building a platform for other companies to reach the masses of Apple users, best summed up by Oprah Winfrey at Apple's TV launch: "They're in a billion pockets, y'all."

Disney CEO Bob Iger: We're just beginning the consolidation process
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