Disney Plus UK quietly became a serious rival to Netflix and Sky

Disney Plus UK
(Image credit: Disney Plus)

When Disney Plus launched in the UK last year, it was frustrating for a few reasons. Firstly, we still had to wait weekly for The Mandalorian episodes to drop – even though America and Australia had all of them by the 2019 holidays. 

Secondly, when the pandemic hit and Disney rolled out the likes of Frozen 2 and Onward onto the service early while we were all trapped at home, the UK had to wait longer to get them. Finally, the age-limited nature of the Disney library meant you really had to be in the mood for Marvel movies, Star Wars or animation to even want to boot the app.

These days, though, Disney Plus UK has accelerated into being a real player next to the other streamers. If you want to watch a movie on Friday night, it's a prime destination for scrolling through its many content tiles – particularly since the addition of Star back in February, which outfitted the library with a host of adult-friendly movies. Over time, that has slowly snowballed, with more shows and movies drip-fed onto the streaming service.

Weirdly, in my head, I now think of Disney Plus as the place I go to watch Wes Anderson or M. Night Shyamalan movies, since it has so many of each of them. But more generally, the library has a solid mix of awards-friendly fare, big blockbusters and weirdo '90s films (hey, it's cosy Tom Hanks '50s throwback That Thing You Do!) alongside the base Disney catalogue. 

It's not just movies, either. Disney Plus UK – replacing the previously existing Fox channel – has subsumed big shows like The Walking Dead, meaning it now has a massive bank of new series to roll out. American Dad, weirdly, is now a Disney Plus show, with new episodes rolling out weekly, which is something I only realised last week. 

Couple this to the blockbuster series coming from Marvel and Star Wars, along with Hulu originals like Solar Opposites and Only Murders in the Building, and you're suddenly getting a heck of a lot for that £7.99 per month. 

What we're seeing now is everything coming together for the streamer. Big launches like Y: The Last Man mean we've stopped seeing Disney Plus as just the Marvel, Star Wars and animation service – you're starting to see a world where this is a viable alternative to Sky or Netflix. That should only build as more big-time adult-focused shows land on the streamer, like next year's Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee series Pam & Tommy starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan. 

Playing to win

It's not like Netflix and Sky are faltering in the face of this competition. The big shows left this year still belong to them: Netflix has The Witcher season 2, Cowboy Bebop and Cobra Kai season 4 still to come, while Sky has HBO's Succession season 3 to roll out. The Walking Dead is a pretty hot show, even after all these years, but you might have to wait a little longer until Disney can truly compete in the realm of adult prestige TV. 

Clearly, though, this is a priority area for Disney Plus, and having an influx of shows from FX in the UK will slowly build their cred in this space. 

Disney Plus seems to be treating this like an arms race – that £7.99 monthly fee is a lot less than a £9.99 monthly NOW entertainment pass combined with a £9.99 Sky Cinema pass. Disney has previously warned its streaming business isn't expected to make a profit until 2024, according to the FT, so in some ways you could argue the streamer isn't playing fair in order to get people through the front door. 

Still, that doesn't matter to you as a user – at least, not while the price of entry is so reasonable, which is something that's likely to change over time. 

Disney Plus seems to get better and better in the UK. We were always locked in for the Star Wars and Marvel shows, which have proved unprecedented in terms of their budget and ambition on the small screen, but ultimately it's the variety within its library that'll determine whether we'll stay subscribed for years to come.

So far, it's looking promising. 

Samuel Roberts

Samuel is a PR Manager at game developer Frontier. Formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, he's an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. Before his stint at TechRadar, he spent six years at PC Gamer. Samuel is also the co-host of the popular Back Page podcast, in which he details the trials and tribulations of being a games magazine editor – and attempts to justify his impulsive eBay games buying binges.