This year’s D23 Expo, taking place in Anaheim, Calif. from Aug. 23-25, will be unlike anything its official fan club members have seen before. While D23 occasionally releases news, in years past it’s mainly been a hype machine to tantalize fans with first looks and exclusive deals. But this year these offerings will have a distinctively different look, thanks to recent corporate changes and one big launch on the horizon.
As of March 20, the Disney-Fox merger has been in full effect – which includes TV series like “The Simpsons” and various Nat Geo titles – and on the film side, Disney is coming off a blockbuster year to date that includes the live-action “Aladdin,” “Toy Story 4,” and the conclusion of the MCU’s Infinity Saga. But one of the biggest gamechangers is the company’s new streaming service Disney+, which is on the verge of launching on Nov. 12 with a slew of new, original programming and an attractive back catalog.
It’s a whole new world (sung “Aladdin”-style) for never-before-seen content, the potential for crossovers, Fox’s untested presence, and the streaming wars. Below are the biggest questions that D23 Expo need to answer:
How Many Three-Year Disney+ Subscriptions Will Be Sold?
Just in case you weren’t paying attention, the launch of Disney+ is nigh, and it’s a big deal. Naturally, all that the streamer offers will be on display at the Expo, ranging from demonstrations of its app interface to all of its original shows and movies. But the boldest move of all is to offer an exclusive and significant discount: for a limited time, D23 Expo attendees or D23 Gold Members will be able to sign up for a subscription for Disney+ at its “Founders Circle” offer, granting $23 off per year with a three-year commitment. At $6.99/month or $69.99/year, Disney+ was already an affordable deal, but reducing that cost by approximately 33 percent ought to be catnip for the fans who are already among the converted. It’s a smart move to lock in viewers long before and after Disney+ launches. No word yet how this might affect, if at all, the price of a skinny bundle that will combine Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu at a discount.
Will “Star Wars” Bring “Skywalker” or David Benioff/D.B. Weiss News?
As Disney readies to release the ninth and final installment in the Skywalker saga – which comprises the original, prequel, and Disney-era trilogies – the Mouse House is likely previewing new content at D23. The ninth Skywalker film, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” directed by J.J. Abrams, is due out Dec. 20, so it stands to reason that the Force will be strong at D23. Will we get a second trailer or another sneak peek?
Lucasfilm will offer a preview of the new Vader Immortal VR and “The Mandalorian,” set for same day release alongside Disney+’s Nov. 12 launch. The series takes place after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” showing that Disney is confident it has plenty of mileage left with the franchise even as the Skywalker saga winds down.
And, finally, what’s the deal with “Game of Thrones” showrunners Benioff and Weiss’ announced Star Wars trilogy? How are they going to balance their films with the reportedly nine-figure deal they just signed with Netflix?
Exit Spider-Man, Enter X-Men?
Now that Disney and Marvel have failed to reach a new deal with Sony, it’s very likely that will be the end of “Spider-Man” in the MCU. While Marvel has no shortage of projects in the works – and will likely bring news of “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” to the Expo – the merger with Fox could offer up some new heroes to play with.
Very little has been said about how the acquisition of 20th Century Fox now will bring the X-Men and Fantastic Four into the same fold as the MCU, probably because of storytelling challenges. But any whiff of a plan, even one very far off, would be intriguing.
Will “The Simpsons” and Other Fox Properties Draw an Older Crowd?
With the merger, all 30 seasons of “The Simpsons” and NatGeo programming will also be available on Disney+ and therefore will have a presence at the Expo. Neither feels very “Disney” at this point and it’s not clear how they’ll integrate at the Expo; “The Simpsons” is family-friendly enough, while fortunately still retaining its irreverent tone, but who comes to D23 to hang out with “Free Solo” climber Alex Honnold? Then again, NatGeo is wisely bringing the always entertaining Jeff Goldblum to Anaheim in addition to an exclusive first look at the scripted series “The Right Stuff.” Who is this for? While NatGeo programming can appeal to any age, it remains to be seen if viewers can be drawn away from the tantalizing Disney presentations. This would be a good proving ground to see if the strategy of adding NatGeo to Disney+ for more mature viewers will pay off.
Will Disney Create a Narrative DCU to Push Fans to Streaming?
The MCU has already spawned several upcoming Marvel series for the upcoming streaming platform, not the least of which is a spinoff featuring Loki, that will intersect with the movies in a “very big way.” But will the narratives of Disney’s traditional movies films dovetail enough with the new streaming offerings to prompt film fans to subscribe? “Forky Asks a Question” is a Pixar short film series coming to the platform but doesn’t seem like essential viewing for “Toy Story 4” fans. We’ll look to the Expo to see if there are hints of how the new “Mulan,” “Maleficent,” or “Frozen 2” will push fans to the app.
Media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told IndieWire earlier this month he expects Disney to position its streaming platform and theatrical releases harmoniously — an MCU show could include a call to action to get viewers to theaters, for example. That would be a chance from recent industry practice, which largely places home and theatrical viewing experiences separate from each other.
Is the Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu Skinny Bundle Enough to Rival Netflix?
Even though Netflix offers plenty of children’s programming, it hasn’t really owned the family space with its originals. And it certainly hasn’t offered any significant sports coverage, live or otherwise. This leaves the door wide open for Disney+ to fill that void. But will it be enough? Disney+ doesn’t have many non-genre or non-children’s scripted series or movies on offer, and Hulu still isn’t filling that gap yet – if ever. Also, foreign programming – both acquired or co-produced – is lacking. The many pavilions set up at the Expo devoted to showing the diverse offerings – ESPN+ is even bringing “SneakerCenter,” a series devoted to sneaker culture – will have to make the case that everything together will be comprehensive enough to add on another subscription fee.